Diagnosing and Treating Glioblastoma Multiforme

A patient with any neurological symptoms will first be given a physical exam that includes neurologic function tests (reflexes, muscle strength, eye and mouth movement, coordination and alertness). If a tumor is suspected, the patient will have imaging tests so that doctors can look into the brain for any abnormality. These tests may include:

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography (CT) scans produce detailed images of the brain and spine and allow doctors to detect the presence of a tumor.  MRI scans provide the best images of glioblastoma multiforme; those scans are usually done with a contrast agent (dye) to help distinguish the tumor from normal brain tissue.

A surgical biopsy may be performed to help confirm the diagnosis. In this procedure, a neurosurgeon extracts a small sample of abnormal cells to test in a pathology laboratory. The main clue to a tumor’s being glioblastoma multiforme is the cell necrosis, or cell death, that is characteristic of GBM.

Treatment Options
If left untreated, glioblastoma multiforme is fatal within weeks or months. With aggressive treatment at a major medical center, a patient diagnosed with GBM can extend his or her survival time to months or even years.

A multidisciplinary team like the one at the Weill Cornell Brain and Spine Center evaluates each patient and recommends an individual treatment plan. Treatment for glioblastoma multiforme usually includes a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or stereotactic radiosurgery.  Patients should have surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible, or to relieve pressure (see Surgery for Glioblastoma Multiforme).  Other treatments include:

Chemotherapy may be used to help shrink a tumor, or as follow-up after surgery to kill off any cancer cells left behind. It is given systemically (meaning to the whole body, not just to the site of the tumor) and may be a pill, an injection, or an IV drip.  Novel treatments at Weill Cornell use intra-arterial methods to improve the efficacy of chemotherapy. (More about these clinical trials.)

Radiation therapy may help control the growth of the tumor and may be used instead of or in addition to surgery. Traditional radiation therapy can be an alternative to surgery or can kill cancer cells left behind after surgery.  

Stereotactic radiosurgery is not traditional surgery at all, but highly focused beams of radiation aimed at a tumor from multiple angles. Commonly known by the names of the machines used — including CyberKnife, Gamma Knife, or LINAC (linear accelerator) — stereotactic radiosurgery is an advanced specialty best performed by highly trained specialists in the field. (See more about the Stereotactic Radiosurgery Program.)

Other treatments may include steroid treatment to reduce swelling, or anti-seizure medication. Researchers are now investigating other treatments, including immunotherapy and gene therapy.  Find out more about brain tumor research and brain tumor clinical trials at the Weill Cornell Brain and Spine Center.

The prognosis for glioblastoma multiforme remains poor, but treatment can prolong life and preserve function while laboratory researchers continue to search for better alternatives.

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Our Care Team

  • Chair and Neurosurgeon-in-Chief
  • Margaret and Robert J. Hariri, MD ’87, PhD ’87 Professor of Neurological Surgery
Phone: 212-746-4684
  • Chief of Neurological Surgery, NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist
  • Professor, Neurological Surgery
  • Director, Brain Metastases Program
  • Co-director, William Rhodes and Louise Tilzer-Rhodes Center for Glioblastoma
Phone: 212-746-1996 (Manhattan) / 718-780-3070 (Brooklyn)
  • Assistant Professor of Neurological Surgery
  • Leon Levy Research Fellow
  • Feil Family Brain and Mind Research Institute
Phone: 646-962-3389
  • Associate Professor, Neurological Surgery
Phone: 718-670-1837
  • Director, Neurosurgical Radiosurgery
  • Professor of Clinical Neurological Surgery
Phone: 212-746-2438
  • Chief of Neurological Surgery, NewYork-Presbyterian Queens
  • Professor of Clinical Neurological Surgery
  • Co-director, Weill Cornell Medicine CSF Leak Program
Phone: (718) 670-1837
  • Vice Chair for Clinical Research
  • David and Ursel Barnes Professor of Minimally Invasive Brain Surgery
  • Professor of Neurosurgery, Neurology, and Otolaryngology
  • Director, Center for Epilepsy and Pituitary Surgery
  • Co-Director, Surgical Neuro-oncology
Phone: 212-746-5620
  • Director of Neuro-oncology
  • Director, Brain Tumor Center, Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center
Phone: 646-962-2185
  • Assistant Attending Neurologist, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital
  • Assistant Professor of Neuro-Oncologist
Phone: 646-962-2185

Reviewed by: Rohan Ramakrishna, M.D.
Last reviewed/last updated: December 2020

Weill Cornell Medicine Neurological Surgery 525 East 68 Street, Box 99 New York, NY 10065 Phone: 866-426-7787