What is a Glioma?

The term “glioma” describes 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

In this video neurosurgeon Elizabeth Claus, MD, PhD, describes symptoms and treatments of low-grade gliomas.

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 a Glioma 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; and sometimes 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.

Contact the Brain Tumor Center

To schedule an appointment with a physician in the Brain Tumor Center, please contact our Patient Coordinator at: (617) 732-6600. We see new patients with a brain tumor diagnosis as soon as the next business day.

If you are a physician seeking to refer a patient to the Brain Tumor Center, please call (617) 732-6600 or you can access our physicians’ office phone numbers. To contact one of our physicians with a question, patient referral or second opinion, you may also email: BWHNeurosurgery@partners.org.

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