4. Educate Yourself

Use the web smartly - it can often be a dark and dangerous place. Use the resources throughout these ten steps for a curated list of the best brain tumor educational resources, or look at our list here.

“Reliable resources can help you make good decisions to optimize your health and healing.” –Jeannine Walston, brain tumor fighter and cancer coach

Use the web carefully. It is easy to find outdated and inaccurate information, or negative stories—but there are also good resources out there. You should conduct thorough research, but realize that most of the examples and scenarios have nothing to do with you. Each brain cancer case is extremely unique.

Cancer is a very broad term that groups together a wide variety of diseases. In general, cancer means that there is an uncontrolled division of abnormal cells. These cells often form tumors, which is functionally a synonym for cancer. Glioblastoma is a type of cancer that forms in the brain’s glial cells, specifically in the astrocytes. It is synonymous with a grade IV astrocytoma. Because glial cells divide rapidly, and because glioma tumors are extremely diffuse, glioblastomas are fast growing and hard to combat.

Tumors are often referred to as benign or malignant.

A benign brain tumor consists of very slow-growing cells, usually has distinct borders and rarely spreads. When viewed under a microscope, these cells have an almost normal appearance. Surgery alone can be an effective treatment for this type of tumor.[1]

A malignant brain tumor is usually rapid-growing, invasive and life-threatening. However, since primary brain tumors rarely spread outside the brain and spinal cord, they do not exactly fit the general definition of cancer. Malignant brain tumors that are cancerous can spread within the brain and spine.[2]

Keep in mind that while these classifications can be distinctly different in other parts of the body, they are less distinct in the brain. This is because brain tumors typically don’t spread to other parts of the body, and whether they are technically cancerous or not, they can put deadly pressure on the brain.[3]

Brain tumors are also categorized as either primary or secondary/metastatic. Primary brain tumors originated in the brain, while secondary tumors originated from somewhere else in the body.[4] Tumors are further classified by grades and that is based on the type of tissue they stemmed from, by the morphology or shapes of the cells, and by the potential growth rate of the tumor cells. Grading is not very precise, because it is usually based on a small tumor sample and the part of the tumor that is biopsied may be different than another part of the tumor due to the heterogeneous nature of tumors. Furthermore, brain tumors can rapidly advance in grade. Most everyone uses the World Health Organization’s (WHO) standard 1-4 grading:[5]

  • Grade 1: Benign with high long-term survival.
  • Grade 2: Relatively slow-growing, but can sometimes recur.
  • Grade 3: Malignant, which tend to recur at a higher grade. The cells in this tumor are actively proliferating or growing.
  • Grade 4: Malignant tumors that are growing rapidly, invading into normal tissue, forming new blood vessels, and have dead cells at their center. This is a glioblastoma, commonly known as GBM, or a Grade 4 astrocytoma.[6]

Grading of the tumors, along with other factors, can help the doctor determine your prognosis. A prognosis is a prediction about how a disease might play out in an individual. Aside from the tumor grade, your prognosis also depends on how old you are, how healthy you are, where your tumor is in your brain, what type of tumor it is, how large the tumor is, how malignant the tumor is, how you respond to treatment, and partly just luck. The median survival for a glioblastoma patient is about 16 months with standard radiotherapy and standard chemotherapy.[7] Glioblastoma is extremely rare in children, but when it does happen, their survival rates are better than adults.

“Research any 'miracle cures' that are sent to you. There are people out there trying to make money off of the most vulnerable of us who are fighting for our lives. Ask your doctor about anything that sounds too good to be true.” – Maria Parker, caregiver, 3000 Miles to a Cure

Links

GBM specific pamphlet from the American Brain Tumor Association

Cancer Support Community: general resources, provides telephone, online and face-to-face counseling, support groups, education, publications and financial and co-payment assistance

LiveStrong Foundation: general resources

Survivorship A-Z: information and tools to empower you to live successfully with a disease

GBM survival rates by age

Continue Reading

10 Steps: Living with Brain Cancer

Sources

[1] “About Brain Tumors,” American Brain Tumor Association, 2012.

[2] “About Brain Tumors,” American Brain Tumor Association, 2012.

[3] “Brain Tumor Guide for the Newly Diagnosed,” Musella Foundation, 2013.

[4] “Brain Tumor Guide for the Newly Diagnosed,” Musella Foundation, 2013.

[5] “Brain Tumor Guide for the Newly Diagnosed,” Musella Foundation, 2013.

[6] “About Brain Tumors,” American Brain Tumor Association, 2012.

[7] Andreas Hottinger et al., “Standards of Care and Novel Approaches in the Management of Glioblastoma Multiforme,” Chinese Journal of Cancer, January 2014.