In the final stages of glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), end-of-life signs may become more apparent. These can include decreased appetite, social withdrawal, changes in behavior, and increased fatigue.

GBM tumors begin in the cells of the brain or spine that make up the supportive tissue known as “glia.” These tumors grow rapidly due to their remarkable ability to reproduce quickly and invade healthy brain cells. As a result, they cause swelling and other complications related to their size.

GBM is more common in people ages 50–70 years and more prevalent in males than females.

These tumors can have a devastating impact on a person’s quality of life and life expectancy. Other symptoms, such as vision changes and seizures, can also indicate that a person is nearing end of life. Currently, GBM tumors account for over 45.2% of all malignant brain tumors.

It can be incredibly challenging to face a terminal illness such as glioblastoma. However, identifying signs that a person is approaching end of life can help the individual and their loved ones prepare accordingly.

This article explains the signs and stages of end of life with glioblastoma and ways to help those affected.

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Everyone experiences end of life differently, and signs that a person is nearing death may come months or weeks before the actual event.

Common signs may include:

  • decreased appetite
  • withdrawal from friends and family
  • changes in behavior, such as confusion or agitation
  • increased sleepiness and fatigue, including sleeping more than usual
  • difficulty speaking or swallowing
  • labored breathing
  • vision changes
  • seizures
  • loss of bowel and bladder control

Changes in vital signs

As a person with glioblastoma nears the end of life, the cancer may affect the brain’s signal to keep breathing. As a result, their breathing may become slower, less regular, and shallower. However, for some people, it may become faster and deeper.

As the body’s rhythm changes, the heart rate may become fast, faint, or irregular, and blood pressure may drop.

People may also become anxious and agitated, meaning their breathing can become faster, and they may feel breathless. In addition, their breathing patterns may shift quickly between fast and slow.

In the final hours of life, mucus can accumulate in the chest, and breathing may sound like a rattle. Although this may be alarming, it is natural.

Changes in behavior and personality

Many people at the end of their life withdraw gradually from the world and become less engaged in daily activities. They may become more tired and spend more time in bed or sleeping, and have less interest in eating, drinking, and talking.

Some people become calm and tranquil, while others may feel agitated and confused. They may also experience extreme shifts in mood and become unusually emotional or restless.

Decline in response

People typically experience a decrease in alertness and communication with family members, becoming less verbal in their last days of life. Some may not be able to speak at all or respond to questions or conversations.

Read more about glioblastoma here.

Toward the very end of life, a person may become completely unresponsive and unconscious. They may not make any sound, open their eyes, or show signs of being aware of what is happening around them. Although breathing can be the last bodily function to shut down, it can happen suddenly and without warning.

The body may turn pale as breathing slows down and stops, and the core temperature may drop. Ultimately, however, the person will pass away peacefully with little pain or distress.

Glioblastoma is an aggressive brain cancer that forms from glial cells. Glioblastomas are the most common and aggressive form of brain tumor, accounting for about half of all brain tumors.

The standard treatment includes:

Although glioblastoma does not have a cure, doctors can slow the growth of the tumor and increase a person’s quality of life during treatment.

Read more about glioblastoma treatment here.

The end of life is a difficult time for everyone, and a person may need additional support.

Some ways to help those affected by GBM include:

  • providing emotional support, listening to their concerns, and offering comfort and reassurance
  • spending quality time with the person or calling them regularly to keep them from feeling isolated
  • keeping them warm and comfortable
  • keeping the environment calm and peaceful
  • giving them ice chips or sips of liquid through a straw if they can swallow
  • arranging for spiritual care or counseling if desired
  • arranging for visits from close friends and family members
  • giving pain medications as directed by the healthcare team

It is important to remember that each situation is unique, and the person’s doctor can provide more information about end-of-life care.

Read more about end-of-life care here.

It is important to recognize that caregivers and family members of those affected by glioblastoma also experience grief, stress, and sadness. Therefore, they need to take time for self-care and seek support from family, friends, healthcare professionals, or counselors.

Various resources are available to assist in coping with the loss of a loved one. They include:

Glioblastoma is a type of brain cancer that is difficult to treat. As a result, those with the condition typically have a poor outlook. End of life with glioblastoma is a difficult experience for those affected and their loved ones. It is important to provide emotional support and comfort to the dying person during this time.

Common signs that a person is nearing end of life include changes in breathing patterns, behavior, personality, responsiveness, and alertness.

Caregivers of those affected by glioblastoma should consider taking time for self-care and seeking support from family, friends, healthcare professionals, or counselors. In addition, there are various resources available to help people cope with loss.