Meningioma vs. Glioblastoma: Understanding the Differences
Last Updated: April 5, 2023
A brain tumor is a serious condition that requires an immediate evaluation and thoughtful treatment plan. However, for treatment and surgery to commence, the tumor must be diagnosed correctly through brain scans, rarely biopsies, and other neurological tests including imaging studies such as MRIs.
Two of the most common types of brain tumors are meningioma and glioblastoma. Whenever an abnormal mass is discovered in a patient’s brain or spinal column, neurosurgeons will first try to determine if the patient has either of the two. A correct diagnosis is crucial because it will be a significant basis for treatment.
This article discusses meningioma vs. glioblastoma, their symptoms, diagnostic procedures, and treatment options.
What Is Meningioma?
Meningioma is named as such because this tumor starts from the meninges or the membranes that wrap around and protects the brain and spinal cord. Most meningiomas are benign (non-cancerous), and only very rarely can turn malignant (cancerous) and become fatal to patients. Fortunately, aggressive, malignant meningiomas are very rare.
Meningioma grows very slowly. Most patients don’t show symptoms, so the tumor can go undetected for years. Even when benign, meningiomas can still have lifelong effects on patients: when the tumor has grown to a significant size, it can put pressure on certain parts of the brain and affect a person’s cognitive abilities, motor skills, speech, memory, etc.
What Is Glioblastoma?
Glioblastoma multiforme is an aggressive tumor that forms from glial cells, specifically astrocytes. Glial cells are also called the “glue” of the nervous system because they surround neurons and provide them with physical and chemical support.
Tumors from glial cells are often malignant. They can start in the brain or the spinal cord, then rapidly form finger-like projections, spread, and destroy the surrounding healthy brain tissues.
There is no cure for glioblastoma. Patients undergo treatment (surgery, radiation, chemotherapy) to slow the growth and spread of the cancer cells and reduce the symptoms, which include severe headaches, seizures, weakness, vomiting, double vision, and nausea among others.
Below is a summary of the differences between meningioma vs. glioblastoma:
|Mostly benign (non-cancerous)||Malignant (cancerous)|
|Slow-growing||Fast-growing and fast-spreading|
|Forms from the meninges in the brain||Forms from the glial cells in the brain|
|The most common type of primary brain tumor (tumors that originate in the brain or nearby tissues)||The most common type of malignant CNS (central nervous system) tumor|
|More common in women||More common in men|
|Patients may not need immediate surgery.||Patients often undergo treatment and surgery as soon as possible.|
Diagnosing Meningioma vs. Glioblastoma
Neurosurgeons perform the following tests to determine whether a patient has a meningioma or glioblastoma:
- CT (computerized tomography) scans use x-rays to generate cross-sectional images of the brain.
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans use magnetic fields to create more detailed cross-sectional images of the entire brain.
- A biopsy to rule out other types of tumors and make a final diagnosis (this is rarely done.)
- A neurologic examination to check the patient’s vision, hearing, coordination, physical strength, balance, and reflexes. Anomalies in these areas can help neurologists determine the location of the growth/tumor.
Brain tumors can be malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous), primary (originating from tissues in the brain and its immediate surroundings) or metastatic (originating elsewhere in the body and spreading to the brain through the bloodstream). They can also be fast-growing or take years to grow. Doctors consider these factors in determining a patient’s type of brain tumor and its treatment.
The Difference Between Glioma and Glioblastoma
If you’ve done some reading beforehand, you may have come across another type of brain tumor called glioma. Some use it interchangeably with glioblastoma because they share the same classification, but the treatments for each differ.
Glioblastoma is a type of glioma. “Glioma” is a blanket term and classification applied to all tumors that start from glial cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Glioblastoma is a grade 4 glioma, the highest on the scale.
It is the most aggressive type and therefore requires equally aggressive treatment. Whereas grade 1 gliomas are relatively benign and treatable with surgery alone, grade 4 glioblastomas often require a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and other treatment options. Grade 2 and 3 gliomas are variable in the extent of their aggressiveness.
It is helpful to know about the broader scope of glioma.
The Importance of Seeking a Second Opinion
Over 120 brain tumors have been identified and acknowledged by the medical community so far. While not all tumors are cancerous, their presence in the brain can still lead to life-altering side effects like mobility, speech, and memory problems. Benign tumors can still grow and put pressure on parts of the brain where there shouldn’t be. Correctly diagnosing and locating the brain tumor, therefore, is crucial.
This also explains the importance of getting a second opinion: other specialists can negate or confirm the first diagnosis. If the former happens, the second round of tests will supply your doctors with more helpful information to finally pin down the type and nature of the tumor.
Here are some other benefits of seeking a second opinion:
- If anything was overlooked in your first round of examinations or if the tumor spreads more quickly than expected, the second round of tests will determine it.
- Patients can get opportunities for alternative treatment plans and access to clinical trials.
- Patients can ask for a referral to the top specialists in the city or state.
- Patients and their families will learn more about brain tumors and treatment options. They will also have time to assess if they want to continue with their current healthcare team.
Have Peace of Mind With a Correct Diagnosis and Promising Treatment
Although getting an accurate diagnosis is just the first step in what could be a long journey to recovery, the peace of mind you get is a reward in and of itself. You know your condition, so you can plan your next steps with your healthcare team. You’ll also feel more confident to proceed with treatment knowing that you’ve covered all bases and you’re making the best possible decision.
If you or someone you know has recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor, consider getting a second opinion from one of the most preeminent neurosurgeons in the world.
Dr. Aaron Cohen-Gadol, a recipient of the Vilhelm Magnus Medal, is one of the most prominent neurosurgeons in the world. He has performed over 7,000 complex brain surgeries and authored over 540 peer-reviewed research publications. He is a surgeon, professor, researcher, mentor, and pioneer in neurosurgery, and continues to innovate surgical techniques to revolutionize patient care.
Get in touch with Dr. Cohen-Gadol and his team today.