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June 29, 2023

Glioblastoma Symptoms: How to Spot the Signs of This Deadly Brain Cancer Tumor

Glioblastoma multiforme, also known as GBM, is one of the most deadly brain tumors due to its rapid growth and aggressive nature. It's a grade-IV astrocytoma and one of oncology's most challenging to treat. Despite breakthroughs in GBM treatment, individuals with these tumors typically have a poor prognosis and a poor quality of life as the disease progresses. 

GBM is known as a "primary" brain cancer tumor. Other tumors that travel to the brain, such as breast cancers, are known as "secondary" tumors. When this brain cancer tumor forms in the brain, it doesn't typically spread to other organs. Symptoms appear in regions of the body governed by the afflicted areas of the brain.

In this blog post, we'll dive into a little background about glioblastoma and shed some light on the symptoms of this treatment-resistant brain cancer.

What is glioblastoma?

Glioblastoma (GBM) is one of the deadliest and most difficult-to-treat malignant tumors. It is the type of glioma brain tumor that develops in the spinal cord or brain. GBMs can develop in the brain from a lower-grade astrocytoma. GBM is most common in adults in the cerebral hemispheres, particularly the frontal and temporal lobes. GBM is a deadly brain cancer. According to a 2022 analysis of recent trends in glioblastoma, the average survival rate was 6.6 months in patients who underwent biopsy only. As a result, it is critical to obtain expert neuro-oncological and neurosurgical care as soon as possible to improve the prognosis.

How familiar is this brain cancer tumor?

An estimated 72,360 adults age 40+ will be diagnosed with a primary brain tumor in 2022 in the U.S. Gliomas, which include glioblastoma, account for 81% of all malignant brain tumors in adults.

Despite the significant effort in the sector of this disease, little progress has been made toward prolonged survival in GBM. However, diagnosis at an early stage is critical as more cutting-edge treatment becomes accessible to patients. 

Symptoms of glioblastoma

Because the brain controls a variety of systems throughout the body, cancer symptoms in the brain may manifest far from it. For instance, an otherwise healthy individual may fall on the tennis court, while another may begin babbling incoherently. 

Symptoms are related to the tumor's location, increased pressure on brain areas near the tumor, and tumor size. Signs can differ from person to person based on these characteristics, and symptoms will get more severe as the cancer spreads, impacting more body processes.

Cancer's anatomical position has an impact on neurological signs. Early detection of this brain cancer tumor is critical; we've compiled the most typical symptoms below.

Glioblastoma symptoms can be gradual and undetectable at first. Headaches, confusion, memory loss, motor weakness, and seizures are common. Nausea, personality changes, difficulties concentrating, hemiparesis, and aphasia are among some other symptoms experienced by patients.


A headache is a typical symptom of brain tumors. The most typical manifestation in the presence of cancer is a tension-type headache and is frequently the earliest sign of glioblastoma. Headaches caused by a brain tumor are relatively different from other headaches. These aches often worsen with time and may not react to over-the-counter pain relievers. They can produce nausea or vomiting and worsen when you lie on the floor, lean over, or exert pressure when having a bowel movement.


Seizures are prevalent, occurring in 50–90% of patients with low-grade astrocytoma and 20–50% of patients with glioblastoma. Seizures may be the first symptom of GBM in 45 percent of patients, and they are frequently the first indication of this lethal disease.

Seizures can manifest themselves in a variety of ways. Seizures are commonly associated with uncontrollable arm and leg movements and loss of consciousness; however, symptoms can be subtler. Nerve damage, numbness, difficulty speaking, unusual scents or sensations, gazing and unresponsive spells can all be seizure symptoms.

Psychological distress

Many people develop psychological distress and mood disorders after being diagnosed with glioblastoma. Frenzy, stress, grief, or even suicidal ideation are all possible. In addition, shock and disbelief, anger and sadness, distress and uneasiness, or anxiety attacks about the condition may be prevalent.

Brain tumors can also lead to behavioral abnormalities, such as losing inhibitions. People with brain tumors may become withdrawn, irritable, or unproductive at work. They may become tired, confused and are unable to think clearly.

Crossed aphasia

The inability to understand or generate words is referred to as aphasia. Patients frequently exhibit difficulties speaking or interpreting language. Reading, writing and the use of manual sign language may all be hampered.

Brain tumor patients may have difficulty finding words, speak incoherently and be unable to convey or understand language.

Focal neurologic deficits

A difficulty with nerve, spinal cord, or brain function is a localized neurologic impairment. It affects only one part of the body, such as the left side, the right arm, or even a tiny area like the tongue. Problems with speech, vision and hearing are all examples of focal neurological impairments.

GBMs, as an intra-axial tumor, can cause a variety of neurological, psychological, and cognitive disabilities, depending on the tumor's location and size within the brain. Motor weakness, cranial nerve palsies, ataxia or cerebellar symptoms and other localized neurological impairments are possible signs.

Sensory changes

A brain tumor can cause hearing, smelling, seeing, and double or hazy vision problems. The sensation of touch can be affected as well. To some extent, people with brain tumors may lose the capacity to feel heat, cold, pressure, sharp edges, or light touches. They would notice a significant change in the usage of their senses to recognize different things.

Change in pulse and breathing rate

A brain tumor pinches the brain stem, which governs essential physical functions like breathing and heart rate, resulting in potential pulse change and increased breathing rates.

Memory loss

Glioblastoma patients have been shown to suffer from memory loss, which could be linked to the malignancy or the treatment. Short-term memory difficulties cause more difficulty in everyday life, than long-term memory impairments. Fatigue can also exacerbate these deficiencies.


As a brain tumor increases in size, it consumes more and more space within the skull, raising intracranial pressure. This elevated pressure has the potential to make patients feel sick. Brain tumors can also alter hormone levels, making a person feel nauseous.

Urinary incontinence

Incontinence is the most commonly reported glioblastoma symptom, with a rate of 40% in patients. Urinary incontinence can be caused by malignancies of the brain or spinal cord malignancies that affect the nerves that control the bladder and pelvic muscles. Because it can directly interfere with brain activity, a developing brain tumor can be the underlying cause of abrupt incontinence.


Dysphagia is a common symptom in patients with a malignant brain tumor. Aspiration, pneumonia, dehydration, starvation, hypoxia and difficulty taking medications are all possible consequences of these swallowing issues. Dysphagia is reported with a varying frequency in glioma patients, ranging from 26–85 percent.


Fatigue is a common symptom across cancer patients in general, including primary brain tumor patients. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) defines cancer-related fatigue as a distressing, persistent, subjective sensation of physical, emotional and cognitive tiredness or exhaustion caused by cancer or cancer therapy. In glioblastoma patients, excessive daily sleepiness (EDS) is frequently accompanied by fatigue, while standalone EDS is uncommon.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How extensive can glioblastoma headaches be?

A: You will most likely feel pain quickly after waking up if you have a glioblastoma headache. When you cough, shift positions, or exercise, the discomfort persists and tends to get worse. You may also experience throbbing, as well as vomiting, depending on where the tumor is positioned.

Q: What can glioblastoma do to patients?

A: Glioblastoma is a tumor that can develop in the brain or spinal cord and is very aggressive. Glioblastoma arises from astrocytes, which are cells that support nerve cells. Glioblastoma can strike anyone at any age, but it is most commonly seen in older adults. It can make headaches, nausea, vomiting, and seizures worse.

Q: What are the signs of a glioblastoma seizure on the horizon?

A: Seizures frequently strike without notice. If a person senses it coming on, he will feel an "aura," potentially including flashing lights, blurred vision, numbness and difficulty speaking. Observing a seizure might be frightening, but you can help minimize consequences by responding appropriately.

Major takeaways

Brain cancer is a frightening disease that can often be difficult to diagnose. One of the most common types of brain cancer tumors is glioblastoma. This tumor grows rapidly and can cause a wide range of symptoms. It is important to know the signs and symptoms of glioblastoma, so you can get treatment as soon as possible.

Common brain cancer tumor symptoms mentioned above don't necessarily indicate the presence of a brain cancer tumor. Discuss any symptoms and concerns with your doctor, as they could signal other health issues.

*Please note that the information provided on The EndBrainCancer Initiative website is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem without consulting a qualified healthcare provider.*

Additional sources:

Dührsen, L., Sauvigny, T., Ricklefs, F. L., Mende, K. C., Schaper, M., Matschke, J., ... & Martens, T. (2019). Seizures as presenting symptom in patients with glioblastoma. Epilepsia, 60(1), 149-154.

Kawauchi, D., Ohno, M., Honda-Kitahara, M., Miyakita, Y., Takahashi, M., Yanagisawa, S., ... & Narita, Y. (2022). The clinical characteristics and outcomes of incidentally discovered glioblastoma. Journal of neuro-oncology, 1-7.

Koçak, M., Atasoy, Ö., Çini, N., & Erbaş, O. Current trends in Glioblastoma.

Glioblastoma Research Organization


Enhancing patient outcomes by expanding FDA-approved treatment modalities and fueling research in the pharma/bio/life sciences, device & diagnostic industries and by closing the existing GAP from initial diagnosis to IMMEDIATE AND EXPANDED ACCESS to specialists, researchers, advanced & innovative treatments, clinical trials and critical care with the ultimate goal of improving patient outcomes through updating and improving WHO & NCCN Guidelines and clinical practices related to Standard of Care for brain cancer patients.

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