Key Points about Glioma
- Glioma is an overarching term for brain tumors in the supportive tissue of the brain.
- There are many types of gliomas.
- Doctors use biopsy, imaging tests and physical exam to diagnose gliomas.
- Treatment for gliomas may include surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy.
Glioma is a general term for any brain tumor that begins in the supportive tissue of the brain. This tissue is known as “glia” and works to support the nervous system.
There are several main types of gliomas:
- Ependymoma (a tumor that begins from the cells that line the cavities of the brain and the center of the spinal cord)
- Gliomatosis cerebri (a tumor that forms on the central nervous system)
- Mixed glioma, or oligoastrocytoma (a tumor that contains both oligodendrocytes and astrocytoma cells)
- Oligodendroglioma (a tumor that begins in the oligodendrocytes, a type of cells that comprise the supportive tissue of the brain)
- Optic glioma (a tumor that forms along the optic nerve of the brain)
This condition is caused by mutations (changes) to the DNA of the supportive tissue of the brain.
Glioma risk factors
The following factors may increase your risk for developing a glioma:
- Being between the ages of 45 and 65
- Having a family history of glioma
- Having undergone radiation therapy, particularly ionizing radiation
Signs and symptoms of gliomas can include:
- Blurred vision, double vision or decreased peripheral (side) vision
- Changes in personality
- Confusion or trouble thinking clearly
- Memory loss
- Trouble with speech
- Urinary incontinence (inability to control the bladder)
Your oncologist may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose this condition:
- Physical exam – your doctor will perform a complete physical exam, including asking questions about your health history, symptoms and related risk factors. As part of this, your doctor will also perform a neurological exam, including checking your hearing, vision, balance, coordination, strength and reflexes.
- Biopsy – in this test, your doctor removes a biopsy (small tissue sample) from the suspicious area. This sample is sent to the laboratory, where a specialist closely checks the biopsy for abnormalities.
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan – this type of imaging test provides a 3D image of the inside of the body that your doctor can use to determine if there is any cancer present. Your doctor may use a CT scan to determine if the cancer has spread beyond the initial site, as well as to stage the cancer.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – this type of imaging test uses high-powered magnets to create detailed images of the inside of your body. Your doctor can closely examine these images to look for any areas that could indicate cancer. Your doctor may use MRI to determine if the cancer has spread beyond the initial site, as well as to stage the cancer.
- Ultrasound – this type of imaging test uses sound waves to create images of the inside of your body. Your doctor can closely examine ultrasound images to look for any areas that could indicate cancer.
Depending on your personal health history, the extent of the glioma and other factors, your oncologist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:
- Surgery – your doctor may recommend a surgical procedure to remove as many of the cancerous cells as possible. Your surgeon will work to preserve as much surrounding healthy tissue as possible.
- Chemotherapy – you will likely need to undergo chemotherapy to destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically. During this treatment, medication is used to destroy cancerous cells. Chemotherapy can be taken via an oral (by mouth) pill or intravenously (through a vein).
- Radiation therapy – this treatment uses high-powered energy beams to destroy cancerous cells. You may need to undergo radiation therapy to destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically.
When should I seek care?
If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an oncologist for more specialized treatment.