Neuro-oncologist sheds light on glioblastoma tumors

July 26, 2017 12:15 PM

Every year 70,000 to 80,000 people will be diagnosed with a glioblastoma, the type of tumor Senator John McCain has been diagnosed with.  Fewer than one percent of those tumors have a genetic link. The rest have no known cause.

Glioblastomas are aggressive tumors, usually diagnosed among those in their 40s to 60s. Slightly more men than women are diagnosed.


Neuro-oncologist, Dr. Susan Weaver, with Albany Medical Center and New York Oncology Hematology explains that with glioblastomas, normal brain cells go awry, growing very quickly. Those cells are targeted for treatment with surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. However, there are other cells, growing more slowly making cure very difficult.

"It doesn't always interfere with the cells that are not actively changing at the time and it's those cells that sometimes can persist through all the treatment someone is exposed to after surgery and those cells, when they're ready to go through their own phase of reproduction, can still master that," noted Dr. Weaver.

Therefore, recurrence is very high -- usually within 12 to 18 months.

WEB EXTRA: Neuro-oncologist on glioblastoma tumor symptoms

Dr. Weaver says the five-year survival rate is less than five percent. However, during treatment, depending on the tumor site, patients can return to their regular routine.

You may recall the trouble the senator had with language during the James Comey testimony. He chalked it up to being tired. However, Dr. Weaver says that could have been an indication of the tumor. She also discussed the blood clot removal surgery that led to the tumor’s discovery.

"These are normal brain cells with blood supply, so when a tumor develops from these unhealthy brain cells, astrocytes, their blood supply is also unhealthy, so sometimes those blood vessels become thickened, irregular. They can open up and hemorrhage," she noted.

During surgery to treat the clot, the tumor would be found.

Albany Medical Center has a brain tumor support group. It meets the first Monday of the month from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.  For more information, call (518) 262-6696.

Dr. Weaver says McCain’s tumor is probably not linked to the senator's earlier treatment for melanoma.

More information:

New York Oncology Hematology


WNYT Staff

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