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About Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM)

Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) is a malignant tumor of the brain and spinal cord. Here at Columbia University Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, we specialize in diagnosing and surgically treating GBMs.

GBMs that develop in the brain are the main subject of this page. For information about GBMs in the spine, please see our spinal astrocytoma page here.

GBMs are one type of a group of tumors collectively known as astrocytomas—so called because they originate from astrocyte cells. Of the astrocytomas, GBMs are the most aggressive. They are also the most common, making up more than half of all astrocytomas. In fact, GBM is the most common type of tumor that starts in the brain.

The World Health Organization grades tumors according to how fast they grow and their ability to spread to surrounding tissues. GBMs are the highest grade, Grade IV, meaning that they grow quickly and tend to invade surrounding tissue.  They are sometimes referred to as “high-grade astrocytomas.” However, GBMs are not always uniform tumors. They can be composed of several grades and cell types, so precise diagnosis and effective treatment require expertise.

Although GBMs can grow anywhere in the brain and spinal cord, they tend to be found most often in the cerebrum. The cerebrum occupies most of the space in the skull, spanning from the top of the head to just above the neck.

Depending on how they arise, GBMs can be divided into two types. Each type also has distinct genetic characteristics.

  • Primary GBMs arise de novo. These are the most common form of GBM and the most aggressive. They tend to develop in adults older than 50.
  • Secondary GBMs start as lower grade astrocytomas and then mature to a higher grade. They tend to develop in adults younger than 45.

At Columbia Neurosurgery, two research laboratories are dedicated to understanding and finding novel treatments for GBM and other tumors: the Bartoli Brain Tumor Laboratory and the Translational Brain Tumor Laboratory. In these labs, neurosurgeons and researchers study how tumors like GBM begin, examine their genetic differences, develop treatments tailored for individual tumors and explore ways to deliver the treatments directly to the tumors. Researchers in many parts of the world are working on new and improved treatments for GBM.

A physician may recommend enrolling in a clinical trial to receive the latest therapies. A clinical trial is a study in which new therapies are evaluated in volunteer patients. These therapies are not yet approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration, but they have undergone rigorous testing in laboratory studies and have shown promise. Given the rapid pace of advancement in our knowledge about GBM, a clinical trial can be a good option because it allows a patient the opportunity to receive the latest, most promising treatments.

patient journey

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