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What is Glioblastoma?


We join the millions of Americans in expressing support for Arizona Senator John McCain and his family following the news of his brain cancer diagnosis. McCain’s cancer, glioblastoma, is the most common and most malignant form of brain cancer, making up about 15 percent of primary brain tumors. These tumors are formed from the glial cells that provide structural support for neurons - the thinking cells in the brain.

An estimated 23,800 new cases of brain and nervous system cancer are expected to be diagnosed this year, as compared to a quarter million breast cancer cases. The specific cause of brain cancer is unknown but promising advancements in treatment are giving patients greater hope.

Because the brain is a uniquely sensitive and vital organ, one of the most important considerations in treatment for glioblastoma is precision – and with a special concern for near and long term side effects.

Treatment is based on the type, location, and stage of the cancer, and the patient’s overall health. Treatment methods include surgery, radiation, radiosurgery, chemotherapy and targeted therapy.

Surgery is often the first treatment but often radiation therapy such as proton therapy is used after surgery or in cases where surgery would be too dangerous. For example, tumors deep in the brain and in sensitive areas can make total removal risky.

Advanced radiation such as proton therapy is especially beneficial in some brain cancer cases because of its extraordinary precision and ability to spare normal brain tissue. Proton beam therapy uses high energy particles (i.e. protons) to destroy cancer with extreme accuracy. Proton radiation can be delivered directly to tumors, with minimal exposure to surrounding healthy tissue. Due to the unique characteristics of proton therapy, patients may be able to receive higher radiation doses more safely than conventional x-ray therapy. Sparing healthy brain tissue may reduce side effects and improve quality of life during and after treatment.

Many brain cancer tumors are treated with a multi-modality approach that combines surgery, radiation therapy such as proton therapy, and chemotherapy in order to optimize patient outcomes.

Additional brain cancer resources: