Importance: Glioblastomas and malignant gliomas are the most common primary malignant brain tumors, with an annual incidence of 5.26 per 100,000 population or 17,000 new diagnoses per year. These tumors are typically associated with a dismal prognosis and poor quality of life.
Objective: To review the clinical management of malignant gliomas, including genetic and environmental risk factors such as cell phones, diagnostic pitfalls, symptom management, specific antitumor therapy, and common complications.
Evidence review: Search of PubMed references from January 2000 to May 2013 using the terms glioblastoma, glioma, malignant glioma, anaplastic astrocytoma, anaplastic oligodendroglioma, anaplastic oligoastrocytoma, and brain neoplasm. Articles were also identified through searches of the authors' own files. Evidence was graded using the American Heart Association classification system.
Findings: Only radiation exposure and certain genetic syndromes are well-defined risk factors for malignant glioma. The treatment of newly diagnosed glioblastoma is based on radiotherapy combined with temozolomide. This approach doubles the 2-year survival rate to 27%, but overall prognosis remains poor. Bevacizumab is an emerging treatment alternative that deserves further study. Grade III tumors have been less well studied, and clinical trials to establish standards of care are ongoing. Patients with malignant gliomas experience frequent clinical complications, including thromboembolic events, seizures, fluctuations in neurologic symptoms, and adverse effects from corticosteroids and chemotherapies that require proper management and prophylaxis.
Conclusions and relevance: Glioblastoma remains a difficult cancer to treat, although therapeutic options have been improving. Optimal management requires a multidisciplinary approach and knowledge of potential complications from both the disease and its treatment.