The cells in your body have a life cycle — they’re created, grow, divide, and eventually die, replaced by new cells that form in response to an organ or system’s need. Some cells, though, don’t behave normally; they continually grow and divide, collecting into a mass called a tumor. Some can also metastasize, spreading from one part of the body to another and forming new tumors wherever they go. These new masses disrupt the function of normal cells.
At Center for Neurosurgery Las Vegas, Dr. Scott Glickman, a board-certified, multi-fellowship-trained neurosurgeon, has extensive experience with tumors of the brain, those that get their start in the brain (primary) and those that metastasize there (secondary). One form of brain tumor that’s characterized by persistent headaches is a glioblastoma. Here’s what you need to know about headaches and their relationship to glioblastomas.
When is a headache more than just a headache?
Headache disorders are one of the most common pain conditions across the globe, with up to 75% of adults having had at least one attack in the past year. Primary headaches are those that aren’t due to any other medical condition, while secondary headaches are caused by an unrelated, underlying problem. That makes headaches caused by glioblastomas a secondary-type headache. But, how do you tell “just a headache” from a headache caused by a glioblastoma?
When glioblastomas produce symptoms, they usually produce a number of different types. If all you’re experiencing is a periodic tension-type headache, it’s probably no more than what it seems. If the headache comes along with any of the other symptoms we mention below, though, you need to seek out a neurosurgeon such as Dr. Glickman to confirm or rule out a glioblastoma diagnosis.
The different types of tumors
There are three general types of tumors:
- Benign: a non-cancerous collection of cells that can’t metastasize; don’t grow back if you remove the mass
- Premalignant: a non-cancerous collection of cells with the potential to become cancerous
- Malignant: cancerous tumors able to metastasize through the bloodstream and lymphatic system
Tumors are also classified by where they originate. For brain tumors, a primary tumor initially forms from the cells in the brain. A secondary tumor is one that starts elsewhere in the body and metastasizes to the brain.
Glioblastomas are primary, malignant tumors. They’re the most aggressive form of gliomas, tumors that arise from the nerve-supporting glial cells.
Glioblastomas put pressure on the brain area in which they grow, causing symptoms characteristic of the specific area’s function. Common symptoms include:
- Persistent headaches, usually more intense in the morning
- Arm, leg, or face weakness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Balance issues
- Memory deficits
Because they’re primary tumors, glioblastomas don’t create symptoms in areas of the body not controlled by the affected brain area.
How do you treat glioblastomas?
Since they’re so aggressive, glioblastomas can be challenging to treat. At Center for Neurosurgery Las Vegas, Dr. Glickman works with a team of oncologists (cancer specialists) to create a treatment plan tailored to your individual needs.
The primary treatment for glioblastomas is surgery, with the goal of removing as much of the tumor as possible without damaging the surrounding tissue. However, because glioblastomas grow into the normal brain tissue, complete removal isn't usually possible. For this reason, most patients receive chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy following surgery to target the remaining cancerous cells.
Clinical trials are studies of new treatments, such as gene therapy, immunotherapy, and focused radiation therapy. These studies give you an opportunity to try the latest treatment options, but because they’re new therapies, the efficacy and side effects aren’t yet known. That means you don’t know if or how you’ll respond. If you’re interested in participating in a trial to help treat your glioblastoma, discuss the possibility with Dr. Glickman, and he can advise you on the best way to proceed.
Sometimes a headache is just a headache, but if you have a persistent headache that also comes with other troubling symptoms, you need to come into Center for Neurosurgery Las Vegas for an evaluation and diagnosis. You can give our office a call at 702-929-8242, text us at 725-210-0057, or book your appointment online.