A glioma (glee-OH-mah) is a tumor arising from the glial cells in the brain or spinal cord. Glial cells support nerve cells with energy and nutrients and help maintain the blood-brain barrier, which protects the brain. Gliomas vary in their aggressiveness, or malignancy. Some are slow-growing and are highly curable. Others are extremely difficult to treat and are likely to recur.

Glioma is an umbrella term used to describe the different types of gliomas listed below:

  • Astrocytoma, which can appear anywhere in the brain or spinal cord. Astrocytomas vary in their degree of malignancy and are scaled from grades I to IV.
  • Brain stem glioma, which develops in the brain stem, at the base of the brain
  • Ependymoma, which most commonly develops inside the brain but can also occur in the spinal cord
  • Glioblastoma multiforme, the most common type of glioma and a grade IV astrocytoma, which develops inside the brain
  • Oligodendroglioma, a rare tumor that typically occurs in the cerebrum

What are the symptoms of a glioma?

Headaches, memory loss, seizures and behavioral changes are the most common symptoms, resulting from increased pressure caused by the tumor’s growth. As the tumor grows, loss of certain bodily functions may also occur. These could include arm or leg weakness or difficulties with speech.

What causes gliomas?

The actual cause of gliomas is unknown. However, gliomas are a type of cancer, and research has shown that some patients have mutations in their DNA makeup that make them more susceptible to cancer than others.

Who is affected?

The incidence of glioma is 1.5 times greater in men than women. Different gliomas are more likely to occur at different ages across the lifespan. Some gliomas occur in children, while others can occur in early or late adulthood. The most common type of glioma, glioblastoma multiforme, tends to occur in adults aged 45 to 65.

How is a glioma diagnosed?

If a patient has symptoms that suggest a glioma, the patient’s physician will work with a team of specialists to confirm the diagnosis. A specialist will conduct a neurological examination, followed by CT scans and/or an MRI. These tests will help determine the size, location and type of tumor. The diagnosis can be confirmed by a biopsy.

What treatments are available?

Specialists employ multiple strategies in the treatment of gliomas. Which treatment or treatments are used depends on the type, location and size of the tumor, as well as the patient’s age and overall health. Specialists usually begin by removing as much of the tumor as possible surgically through an opening in the skull, a procedure known as a craniotomy

More than one of the following treatments are typically used:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Chemotherapy wafers
  • Dual implant therapy (radiation seeds and chemotherapy wafers)
  • High-precision radiosurgery, including three-dimensional conformal radiotherapy and stereotactic radiosurgery
  • Image-guided neurosurgery
  • Intraoperative MRI
  • Radiation seed implants
  • Surgery (craniotomy)

Innovative research at the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute has shown that dual implantation of radioactive seeds and chemotherapy wafers following surgery for recurrent glioblastoma led to promising results. The study, published in the February 2008 issue of the Journal of Neurosurgery, revealed that the simultaneous implantation of radioactive seeds and chemotherapy wafers was well tolerated by patients and provided longer survival compared with the implantation of seeds or wafers alone.

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