What is glioma?
Glioma is a type of tumor that occurs in the brain and spinal cord. Gliomas begin in the gluey supportive cells (glial cells) that surround nerve cells and help them function.
Three types of glial cells can produce tumors. Gliomas are classified according to the type of glial cell involved in the tumor.
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
Gliomas can affect your brain function and be life-threatening depending on their location and rate of growth.
Gliomas are one of the most common types of primary brain tumors.
The type of glioma you have helps determine your treatment and your prognosis. In general, glioma treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy and experimental clinical trials.
How common is glioma?
Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of glioma?
The common symptoms of glioma are:
- Memory loss
- Physical weakness
- Loss of muscle control
- Visual symptoms
- Language problems
- Cognitive decline
- Personality changes
These symptoms may change, according to which part of the brain is affected.
Symptoms may worsen or change as the tumor continues to grow and destroys brain cells, compresses parts of the brain, and causes swelling in the brain and pressure in the skull.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes glioma?
Like most primary brain tumors, the exact cause of gliomas is not known. But there are some factors that may increase your risk of a brain tumor.
What increases my risk for glioma?
There are many risk factors for glioma, such as:
- Your age. Your risk of a brain tumor increases as you age. Gliomas are most common in adults between 60 and 80 years old. However, a brain tumor can occur at any age. Certain types of gliomas, such as ependymomas and pilocytic astrocytomas, are more common in children and young adults.
- Exposure to radiation. People who have been exposed to a type of radiation called ionizing radiation have an increased risk of brain tumor. Examples of ionizing radiation include radiation therapy used to treat cancer and radiation exposure caused by atomic bombs.
More-common forms of radiation, such as electromagnetic fields from power lines and radiofrequency radiation from cellphones and microwave ovens, have not been shown to increase the risk of glioma.
- Family history of glioma. It’s rare for glioma to run in families. But having a family history of glioma can double the risk of developing it. Some genes have been weakly associated with glioma, but more study is needed to confirm the link between these genetic variations and brain tumors.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is glioma diagnosed?
If your primary care doctor suspects you have a brain tumor, you may be referred to a specialist who is trained in treating brain and nervous system disorders (neurologist). Your doctor may recommend a number of tests and procedures, including:
- A neurological exam. During a neurological exam, your doctor may check your vision, hearing, balance, coordination, strength and reflexes. Problems in one or more of these areas may provide clues about the part of your brain that could be affected by a brain tumor.
- Imaging tests. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is often used to help diagnose brain tumors. In some cases, a dye (contrast material) may be injected through a vein in your arm during your MRI study to help show differences in brain tissue.
A number of specialized MRI scan components — including functional MRI, perfusion MRI and magnetic resonance spectroscopy — may help your doctor evaluate the tumor and plan treatment.
Other imaging tests may include computerized tomography (CT) scan and positron emission tomography (PET).
- Tests to find cancer in other parts of your body. To rule out other types of brain tumors that may have spread from other parts of the body, your doctor may recommend tests and procedures to determine where the cancer originated. Gliomas originate within the brain and are not the result of cancer that has spread (metastasized) from elsewhere.
- Collecting and testing a sample of abnormal tissue (biopsy). Depending on the location of the glioma, a biopsy may be performed with a needle before treatment or as part of an operation to remove the brain tumor.
A stereotactic needle biopsy may be done for gliomas in hard-to-reach areas or very sensitive areas within your brain that might be damaged by a more extensive operation. During a stereotactic needle biopsy, your neurosurgeon drills a small hole into your skull. A thin needle is then inserted through the hole. Tissue is removed through the needle, which is frequently guided by CT or MRI scanning.
The biopsy sample is then analyzed under a microscope to determine if it’s cancerous or benign.
A biopsy is the only way to definitively diagnose a brain tumor and give a prognosis to guide treatment decisions. Based on this information, a pathologist can determine the grade or stage of a brain tumor.
Tumors are divided into four grades with grade I tumors having the slowest growing, most benign cells and grade IV tumors having the most abnormal and aggressive cancer cells.
How is glioma treated?
Different treatment options are considered for malignant glioma, depending on the location of the tumor, type of glioma (cell type), and grade of malignancy. The patient’s age and physical condition also play a role in determining treatment. Treatment for gliomas is multifaceted and may include:
- Tumor removal by surgery is the mainstay of treatment. The patient should be otherwise relatively healthy, and brain function, speech, and mobility is able to be maintained. Imaging techniques such as CT scanning and functional MRI may be used to assist the surgeon in removing the tumor. The goal is to remove as much of the tumor as possible and obtain an accurate diagnosis. Recurrences of the tumor are frequent.
- Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays or other radiation to kill the cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy uses drugs to stop the cancer cell growth. This therapy may be taken by mouth or injected.
- Electric-field therapy uses electrical fields to target cells in the tumor while not hurting normal cells. It’s done by putting electrodes directly on the scalp. The device is called Optune. It’s given with chemotherapy after surgery and radiation. The FDA has approved it for both newly diagnosed people and people whose glioblastoma has come back.
- Supportive therapy to improve symptoms and neurologic function include corticosteroids to reduce swelling in the brain caused by the tumor and anticonvulsants to control or prevent seizures.
- Clinical trials, performed to see if new cancer therapies are effective and safe, are another option.
Treatment for Low-Grade Astrocytomas
The primary treatment for low-grade astrocytomas is surgery. However, because these tumors penetrate deep into the brain and grow into normal brain tissue, surgery is sometimes difficult. Radiation is often recommended after surgery or if there is a recurrence. Chemotherapy may also be used after surgery or as part of the treatment of recurrences.
Treatment for High-Grade Astrocytomas
Treatment for high-grade astrocytomas (Grade III anaplastic astrocytomas or Grade IV glioblastomas multiforme) is surgery, if possible. After surgery, radiation therapy, in conjunction with chemotherapy, is the next step. Sometimes surgery to remove the high-grade tumor is not possible. Then radiation and chemotherapy are used. If the tumor returns, the surgery may be repeated along with other forms of chemotherapy. Clinical trials may also be recommended to allow patients to use new therapies.
Treatment for Oligodendrogliomas
For oligodendrogliomas, surgery is the first choice of treatment to help relieve symptoms and increase patient survival. Radiation with or without chemotherapy may be given after surgery. Also, chemotherapy or radiation maybe used to shrink a tumor before surgery. If surgery cannot be done, then chemotherapy with or without radiation therapy may be used.
Treatment for Ependymomas and Anaplastic Ependymomas
Ependymomas and anaplastic ependymomas do not pass into normal brain tissue as do other gliomas. Therefore, surgery may be highly effective if all of the tumor is removed. However, ependymomas may seed the cerebrospinal fluid so the entire spinal canal needs evaluation with MRI scanning. These tumors are highly responsive to radiation. Clinical trials are underway to see if chemotherapy can take the place of radiation therapy.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage glioma?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with glioma:
- Learn enough about gliomas to make decisions about your care. Ask your doctor about your specific type of brain tumor, including your treatment options and, if you like, your prognosis. As you learn more about brain tumors, you may become more confident in making treatment decisions.
- Keep friends and family close. Keeping your close relationships strong will help you deal with your brain tumor. Friends and family can provide the practical support you’ll need, such as helping take care of your house if you’re in the hospital. And they can serve as emotional support when you feel overwhelmed by cancer.
- Find someone to talk with. Find a good listener who is willing to listen to you talk about your hopes and fears. This may be a friend or family member. The concern and understanding of a counselor, medical social worker, clergy member or cancer support group also may be helpful.
- Ask your doctor about support groups in your area.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: September 8, 2017 | Last Modified: September 8, 2017
Glioma. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/glioma/home/ovc-20129412. Accessed September 8, 2017.
Brain Cancer and Gliomas. http://www.webmd.com/cancer/brain-cancer/malignant-gliomas#2-3. Accessed September 8, 2017.