Glioblastoma is a cancerous growth in the brain. Treatment for glioblastoma involves removing as much of the growth as possible and preventing it from returning.

Glioblastomas are a type of brain tumor known as astrocytomas. They develop from star-shaped cells that doctors call astrocytes, which support the nerve cells in the brain.

Glioblastoma is the most common and fastest-growing brain tumor. It may spread into the surrounding brain tissue but rarely spreads to another part of the body.

There is no cure for glioblastoma. Doctors treat it by shrinking or removing the tumor, which may reduce its associated symptoms.

In this article, we examine the potential treatment options for glioblastoma. We also discuss a person’s life expectancy with this disease and whether any new treatments are available.

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Design by MNT; Photography by Vradiy Art/Stocksy & Christaras A, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Despite ongoing research into the causes of and treatments for glioblastoma, the outlook remains poor. The median survival time for people who do not receive treatment is 3–4 months. Median survival means that 50% of people with this tumor live this length of time.

The median survival time for people receiving treatment for glioblastoma is 15 months. Around 5.5% of people with this tumor live for 5 years or more.

Studies indicate that a small percentage of people with glioblastoma may have longer-term survival, such as 10 years or more, with one case report mentioning a person living for more than 20 years with treatment.

Learn more about glioblastoma here.

Treatment options for glioblastoma include the following:


Treatment for glioblastoma generally starts by surgically removing as much of the tumor as is safely possible without affecting brain function or the person’s underlying health.

Removing the tumor tissue decreases the pressure on the parts of the brain close to the growth. The resulting lower pressure in these areas could mean a person has reduced symptoms and an improved ability to think, see, or speak.

For many people, surgery does not remove all of a tumor. This is because glioblastomas form microscopic branches that can spread to other brain areas.

A brain surgeon, or neurosurgeon, may use one of the following surgical options for someone with glioblastoma:

  • Craniotomy: This is the most common type of brain tumor surgery. It involves removing a piece of bone from the skull to access the tumor.
  • Awake craniotomy: A doctor may perform this surgery on a person with a tumor in a part of the brain that controls essential functions. The person is awake — but under sedation — so the neurosurgeon can stimulate parts of the brain to identify important areas to avoid while removing the tumor. People do not feel any pain during the procedure.
  • Laser interstitial thermal therapy (LITT): LITT is a minimally invasive surgical technique that targets and destroys cancerous cells with lasers while minimizing damage to healthy brain cells near the tumor.

After surgery, people may have chemotherapy or radiation therapy to kill any remaining cancer cells.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses a machine to aim high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing. This machine targets a specific body part that is cancerous.

Certain types of radiation therapy may help limit damage to nearby healthy tissue. These include the following:

  • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT): This uses a computer to make a 3D image of the tumor. A machine then delivers multiple beams of radiation — using different strengths and angles — at the tumor, minimizing the impact on nearby healthy tissue.
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery: This noninvasive therapy uses a rigid head frame that attaches to a person’s skull and keeps the head still during treatment. Then, a machine uses many radiation beams to deliver a single high dose of radiation to the brain tumor.
  • 3D conformal radiation therapy: This therapy uses a computer to make 3D scans of the exact shape and size of the tumor. The treatment machine shapes the radiation beams to match the tumor, minimizing radiation exposure to nearby healthy tissue.


Chemotherapy uses drugs to stop cancer cell growth by killing them or preventing them from dividing.

Chemotherapy is challenging to deliver to tumor cells in the brain because of the blood-brain barrier. This is a network of blood vessels and brain cells that prevent harmful substances from reaching the brain. It also shields the brain from most chemotherapy drugs.

Healthcare professionals may administer chemotherapy in the following ways:

  • directly into a vein to enter the bloodstream (intravenously)
  • into the spine (intrathecal)
  • directly into the brain using a wafer that dissolves and releases into brain tissue
  • as tablets to swallow (orally)

Some newer treatments, such as targeted therapy, are available. However, they have not yet played a significant role in treating brain tumors.

Targeted therapies use drugs to identify and attack specific cancer cells. They may be helpful for certain tumors and sometimes work when chemotherapy drugs are ineffective. There is also less chance of targeted therapies harming healthy cells than chemotherapy or radiation therapies.

Bevacizumab (Avastin)

Bevacizumab (Avastin) is a targeted therapy that doctors may use to treat recurrent glioblastoma.

Bevacizumab is a monoclonal antibody, which is an immune system protein that scientists develop in a laboratory. Monoclonal antibodies bind to targets on the surface of cancer cells. Once bound, the proteins can:

  • block cancer cell growth
  • prevent the cancer cells from spreading
  • cause cancer cells to die

It targets vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a protein that helps tumors develop the new blood vessels they need to grow.

Research is ongoing to test new therapies or combinations of existing treatments in clinical trials to improve a person’s outlook for glioblastoma.

Glioblastoma is a rapidly growing brain cancer tumor that may spread to other parts of the brain. A person with glioblastoma may live for 3–4 months without treatment. However, several treatments are available to improve a person’s outlook.

Treatment for glioblastoma may involve surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of all three. The aim is to remove as much of the tumor as safely as possible and prevent it from growing. Newer treatments, such as targeted therapies, are also available for glioblastoma that comes back.

With treatment, a person with glioblastoma has a median survival time of 15 months, but a small percentage of people survive for 10 years or more after they receive a diagnosis.