What is a glioblastoma? Brain tumour and symptoms explained as Tom Parker from The Wanted dies age 33

The singer first revealed that he had been diagnosed with stage four glioblastoma in October 2020

The Wanted singer Tom Parker passed away at age 33, a year and a half after he revealed that he had been diagnosed with a brain tumour.

In October 2020, he revealed that he had been diagnosed with stage four glioblastoma, and that he had begun radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment.

His death came after, in January 2021, he said that there had been a “significant reduction” in the size of his tumour and that he was “responding well to treatment”.

This is everything you need to know about glioblastoma.

What is a glioblastoma?

A glioblastoma is a grade four brain tumour, also known as glioblastoma multiforme, GMB, GMB4 or a grade four astrocytoma.

The NHS says that brain tumours are given a grade from one to four and that the higher the number, the more serious the tumour is.

Grade one and two brain tumours are non-cancerous tumours that tend to grow slowly. Grade three and four brain tumours are cancerous that grow more quickly and are more difficult to treat.

Tom Parker announced in October 2020 that he had been diagnosed with the tumour (Photo: Ben Gabbe/Getty Images)

The Brain Tumour Charity categorises glioblastoma as “the most common high grade primary brain tumour in adults” and that it is a type of “glioma” which is “a brain tumour that grows from a glial cell”.

It explains that glioblastoma are:

  • Fast growing
  • Diffuse, which means they have “threadlike tendrils that extend into other parts of the brain”
  • Likely to spread within the brain
  • May come back, even if intensively treated

What are the symptoms of a glioblastoma?

Because different areas of the brain control different functions, the symptoms a person with a glioblastoma will depend on where the tumour is situated in their brain, the size of the tumour and how aggressive it is.

Some symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea and dizziness
  • Loss of taste and smell 
  • Personality changes
  • Memory difficulties
  • Communication difficulties
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Cognition difficulties
  • Seizures
  • Learning difficulties
  • Sight problems 

How is it diagnosed?

Johns Hopkins says that the diagnosis of a glioblastoma involves:

  • A medical history and physical exam, which includes questions about the patient’s symptoms, personal and family health history 
  • A neurological exam, which tests vision, hearing, speech, strength, sensation, balance, coordination, reflexes and the ability to think and remember
  • An eye examination in which the doctor looks for any swelling caused by pressure on the optic nerve, which connects the eyes to the brain
  • Brain scans, such as an MRI or CAT scan in which computers are used to create detailed images of the brain
  • A biopsy, in which a small sample of the tumour is removed for examination under a microscope

How is it treated?

If a person with a glioblastoma is considered well enough, the first course of treatment is neurosurgery, in which surgeons will attempt to remove as much of the tumour as possible.

It can be difficult to remove all of a glioblastoma due to its tendril-like threads which spread out across the brain, and it can be difficult to differentiate between the edges of the main part of the tumour and regular brain tissue.

Following this procedure, you may also receive chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or both.

The NHS adds that gliadel wafers, also known as carmustine implants, are a new way of distributing chemotherapy for those with a glioblastoma, in which implants are inserted into the brain.

Cancer Research UK explains that gliadel wafers are “small discs about the size of a 5p coin” and that the wafers “release the chemotherapy drug carmustine as they dissolve”.

It continues: “The carmustine in the wafer works by sticking to one of the cancer cell’s DNA strands. The cell can’t then divide into two cells. This stops the cells growing and they die.

“Your brain surgeon puts the wafers in during brain surgery to remove some or all of the tumour.

“They put up to eight wafers in the space where the tumour was. Over the next few days, the wafers slowly release the chemotherapy drug carmustine into this area.”

Also medications may also be prescribed to manage symptoms like headaches, seizures and vomiting.

What causes glioblastomas?

It’s still unknown what causes glioblastomas to grow, and there is currently no evidence to suggest that they are triggered by anything that a patient has or has not done.

The reasons why glioblastomas develop is currently still under investigation, with research looking at genetic and molecular changes that can occur in the cells.

The Brain Tumour Charity says that “research is gradually discovering genes which are involved in different types of tumours” and that in the future, after more research, this could be used “to predict how people may respond to certain treatments and also the length of their overall survival”.

When did Tom Parker die?

The Wanted singer Tom Parker passed away at the age of 33 after he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour.

He revealed his diagnosis in October 2020, in which he said that he had stage four glioblastoma, and that he had begun radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Despite his condition, he had performed on stage with his bandmates in recent weeks on their much-delayed reunion tour.

The Wanted performing during HITS Radio’s HITS Live 2021 at Resorts World Arena (Photo: Anthony Devlin/Getty Images for BAUER)

His death was announced on Wednesday (30 March) in a statement released by the band.

A post on The Wanted’s Instagram page said: “Max, Jay, Siva, Nathan and the whole Wanted family are devastated by the tragic and premature loss of our bandmate Tom Parker, who passed away peacefully at lunchtime today surrounded by his family and his band mates.

“Tom was an amazing husband to Kelsey, and father to Aurelia and Bodhi. He was our brother, words can’t express the loss and sadness we feel. Always and forever in our hearts.

“Tom Parker 1988-2022.”

His widow, Kelsey Parker, formerly Hardwick, said the hearts of his family were broken by his death.

She wrote on Instagram: “It is with the heaviest of hearts that we confirm Tom passed away peacefully earlier today with all of his family by his side.

“Our hearts are broken, Tom was the centre of our world and we can’t imagine life without his infectious smile and energetic presence.

Tom and Kelsey Parker at the Pride Of Britain Awards 2021 (Photo: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

“We are truly thankful for the outpouring of love and support and ask that we all unite to ensure Tom’s light continues to shine for his beautiful children.

“Thank you to everyone who has supported in his care throughout, he fought until the very end. I’m forever proud of you.”