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What Is a Glioma?

Glioma encompasses a broad group of tumors that arise from cells that make up supportive tissue of the brain and, less frequently, the spinal cord. Gliomas are the most common type of tumor to originate in the brain.

Some types of gliomas grow slowly and are described as “low grade.” The most advanced and fast-growing form is a “glioblastoma.” All are referred to as malignant glioma. Gliomas generally are characterized as Grade I thru IV.

Types of glioma include:

  • Astrocytomas, including astrocytoma, anaplastic astrocytoma and glioblastoma
  • Ependymomas, including anaplastic ependymoma, myxopapillary ependymoma and subependymoma
  • Oligodendrogliomas, including oligodendroglioma, anaplastic oligodendroglioma and anaplastic oligoastrocytoma

What Are the Risk Factors for a Glioma?

Low-grade gliomas tend to occur in people ages 20 to 40 and may progress to more aggressive tumors. Risk of higher grade glioma increases with age: the types that occur in adults are most common between ages 40 and 70. Gliomas overall occur more frequently in men than in women. Risk may be related to high dose radiation exposure (though this is rare) and is slightly increased among family members of someone who has a glioma.

What Are the Symptoms of a Glioma and How Is It Diagnosed?

Symptoms of a glioma vary based on the tumor’s size and location and how rapidly it may be growing and putting pressure on the brain. Symptoms may include:

  • Persistent and worsening headaches
  • Seizures
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Problems with vision, hearing, balance, or movement
  • Confusion and memory loss

Low-grade gliomas may have minimal initial symptoms.

Diagnosis includes a neurological exam with a physician for balance, reflexes, vision, hearing, and other neurological function and brain imaging (including MRI, CT, and PET).

How Is a Glioma Treated?

The type of glioma will help determine treatment and prognosis. The current standard of care is surgery to remove the tumor. Surgery may be followed by chemotherapy (drugs that stop tumor growth) and/or radiation therapy to address any remaining tumor or microscopic disease. Inoperable tumors may be treated by radiation and/or chemotherapy to relieve symptoms. Chemotherapy sometimes is delivered directly to the tumor site during surgery or afterward through a shunt. Despite significant advances in treating gliomas, they frequently recur and require ongoing imaging and treatment.

Learn more about glioma treatment at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Specialists in Treating Glioma

In this video neurosurgeon Elizabeth Claus, MD, PhD, shares more information about low-grade gliomas, a malignant brain tumor.

The neurosurgeons at Brigham and Women's see hundreds of glioma patients each year—a high volume of experience that allows for exceptional care. They will collaborate with the rest of our multidisciplinary team of radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, and other cancer specialists to develop your individualized care plan. By accounting for your specific brain tumor—and drawing upon the latest treatment options—our team will give you the best possible chance at a successful outcome.

As a patient at Brigham and Women's Hospital, you can count on:

  • Expertise in imaging technologies that set the standard for precision and safety in brain surgery and are unmatched in New England, including our Advanced Multimodality Image-Guided Operating (AMIGO) Suite
  • Extensive experience in minimally invasive techniques that allow us to treat tumors that were otherwise considered inoperable or untreatable
  • Clinical trials offering access to new surgical and radiation techniques, new immunotherapies and more
  • Collaboration with cancer specialists from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

Additional Resources

  • To make an appointment, please call 617-732-6600 or submit a request through our secure online form
  • Explore resources for patients and families
  • Browse answers to neurosurgical patients’ frequently asked questions

Learn more about Brigham and Women's Hospital

For over a century, a leader in patient care, medical education and research, with expertise in virtually every specialty of medicine and surgery.

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