If you or a loved one recently received the life-altering diagnosis of glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), you probably want to learn all you can about this aggressive and incurable grade IV brain tumor. Separating fact from fiction is a good place to start. There are many pervasive myths and misconceptions about brain cancer, including GBM tumors.
As a fellowship-trained neurosurgical oncologist who conducts clinical trials for cutting-edge GBM treatments, Jose Valerio, MD, specializes in advanced GBM therapies that help improve treatment outcomes for patients with these high-grade brain tumors. Read on as Dr. Valerio debunks some of the most common fallacies surrounding GBM.
Myth 1: GBM is the rarest form of brain cancer
Fact: About 14,000 people find out they have GBM each year in the United States, making it the most common brain tumor diagnosis among American adults. GBM is also responsible for about half of all malignant (cancerous) brain tumor diagnoses nationwide.
Myth 2: GBM tumors can develop when another cancer spreads
Fact: GMB is a primary brain tumor, meaning it begins in the brain. Specifically, it arises from the star-shaped astrocyte cells that surround and support the brain’s nerve cells (neurons). GBMs rarely spread to other parts of the body, but their malignant cells multiply quickly and spread aggressively to other areas of the brain.
When cancer that starts in another body area — such as breast, colon, lung, or skin cancer — spreads (metastasizes) to the brain, it’s called a metastatic brain tumor. Brain metastases are malignant, like GBM, but they tend to be less aggressive and more responsive to treatment.
Myth 3: Cell phone use can cause GBM tumors
Fact: To date, there’s no established link between cell phone use and brain cancer and GBM risk. Cell phones emit low levels of non-ionizing radiation — also known as radiofrequency (RF) energy — when in use, and experts have studied the potential health effects of exposure to RF energy for more than three decades.
According to the National Cancer Institute, there’s currently no evidence that exposure to low levels of non-ionizing radiation increases cancer risk of any kind in humans. Furthermore, the number of people diagnosed with GBM has remained relatively stable, while cell phone use has continued to increase.
Myth 4: It’s futile to treat an incurable brain cancer like GBM
Fact: While it’s true that a GBM diagnosis is devastating, treating this incurable, aggressive brain cancer can slow its progression, alleviate symptoms, and prolong a patient’s life.
Without treatment, GBM typically leads to patient death in six months or less. But with the specialized care of a neurosurgical oncologist like Dr. Valerio, patients with GBM are living for two, three, or four years, and sometimes longer. And with ongoing clinical trials aimed at developing treatments that increase survival, the outlook for patients with GBM is poised to improve sooner rather than later.
Myth 5: Surgery can remove an entire GBM tumor
Fact: A rapidly growing GBM tumor develops infiltrative tumors — much like the threads of a spider’s web — which extend from the primary site to other brain areas. These cancerous tentacles are invisible to the naked eye, and they can’t be detected by many advanced imaging technologies, either.
A successful total resection of a GBM tumor is defined as removing at least 98% of the contrast-enhancing tumor, which is the part of the cancer Dr. Valerio can see on a contrast MRI scan. Even a surgical resection that effectively removes 99% or more of a visible GMB mass leaves behind microscopic tumor cells.
Given that glioblastoma cells are so aggressive, standard-of-care treatment always includes radiation and chemotherapy, even after a successful surgical resection.
Myth 6: GBM is an inherited brain cancer
Fact: Many people who are diagnosed with GBM worry that close family members have an increased brain cancer risk as a result. But being diagnosed with glioblastoma doesn’t mean your children or siblings are more likely to develop GBM or any other type of brain tumor; in fact, GBM almost always develops sporadically.
To learn more about glioblastoma or to discuss treatment, contact the practice of Jose Valerio, MD, to book an appointment. We have offices in South Miami, Hialeah, and Weston, Florida.