Glioma is not a specific type of brain cancer but refers to a group of tumors that start in the brain's glial cells. Several types of tumors are classified as gliomas. These range from low-grade and relatively treatable to high-grade, very serious, tumors with poor outcomes. About 30 percent of all brain tumors are gliomas and 80 percent of malignant brain tumors are gliomas. They are uncommon in children, and their incidence rate goes up with age.

The three basic types of glioma are:

  • Astrocytomas - These tumors develop in glial cells called astrocytes. It is rare for brain tumors to spread to other organs but most astrocytomas can spread widely throughout the brain and blend with the normal brain tissue. Some low grade astrocytomas that more commonly affect children have a good prognosis. The highest grade, known as glioblastoma multiforme, is very aggressive and generally is associated with a poor prognosis.
  • Oligodendrogliomas - These uncommon tumors start in brain cells called oligodendrocytes. Like astrocytomas, most of these can spread into nearby brain tissue and cannot be completely removed by surgery. Very aggressive forms of these tumors are known as anaplastic oligodendrogliomas.
  • Ependymomas - These tumors begin in ependymal cells, which line the ventricles. The highest grade ependymomas are called anaplastic ependymomas. Ependymomas may block the drainage of cerebro spinal fluid from the ventricles, causing them to swell – a condition called hydrocephalus. Ependymomas tend to remain as a single mass and can therefore sometimes be cured through surgical removal. Only about 2 percent of brain tumors are ependymomas.

Risk Factors

There are very few obvious risk factors associated with brain tumors, therefore they are difficult to prevent. Radiation exposure, most commonly due to radiation therapy used to treat other cancers, can increase a person's risk for brain tumors. Most people with brain tumors do not have a family history of the disease. However, brain and spinal cord cancers run in families of people with rare diseases like Neurofibromatosis, tuberous sclerosis and other inherited genetic conditions. People with impaired immune systems also may be at increased risk. Currently, there are no blood or other screening tests that can reliably detect brain tumors at an early stage.


Symptoms of brain or spinal cord tumors can be fairly general, with specific symptoms depending on the exact location of the tumor. Symptoms may occur gradually and become worse over time, or they can happen suddenly, as with a seizure. Any tumor in the brain may cause increased pressure or swelling, leading to complaints of headaches, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, weakness or numbness, coordination or balance problems, speech or comprehension difficulties, personality or behavior changes, seizures, and drowsiness. All of those symptoms can also be caused by other conditions and do not necessarily indicate a brain tumor. Any concerns should be followed-up with a neurologic exam to evaluate brain and spinal cord function.

Prevention and Treatment

Survival is very specific to the type of glioma and is most often determined by a person's age, the type of tumor, its size and location, whether it can be surgically removed and how far it has spread. In general, younger people (under 45) have significantly better survival rates than those over 55 and those diagnosed with lower grade gliomas face better chances than those with aggressive tumors.

Some gliomas can be surgically removed or reduced, while others will be treated with a combination of radiation and chemotherapy, which can help prevent or relieve symptoms. Researchers are continually working on clinical trials and targeted therapies to better understand the formation of brain tumors and improve treatment.'



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