What is a glioma?

A glioma is a type of tumor that grows on your brain and spinal cord. These tumors form in the brain cells that keep neurons — a special type of nerve cell — in place and help them function properly.

Around 33% of all brain tumors are gliomas.

There are three main types of gliomas: astrocytomas, ependymomas and oligodendrogliomas. The difference between the three is the type of cells that the tumor affects.

Brain Cancer

Causes of gliomas

Doctors still don't know much about the causes of brain tumors.

Unlike other types of cancer and tumors, there isn't a direct link between family history and gliomas. Being exposed to radiation is one of the only causes that doctors have been able to identify.

Risk factors for glioma

While doctors haven't identified a cause of gliomas, they've pinpointed a few risk factors for developing these tumors.

Your age is the first factor. Some types of gliomas happen in children and young adults; however, most gliomas form in people between the ages of 60 and 80.

Certain types of radiation — a form of energy — also increase your risk of developing a glioma. There's no need to worry about radiation from cell phones, microwaves and other common devices. The radiation from treating cancer and from atomic bombs is the type that increases the risk of developing a glioma.

Symptoms of glioma

The symptoms of a glioma depend on its location. Different people experience different symptoms, too. Some people don't show any symptoms at all. The common symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Vision problems
  • Problems talking
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Changes in personality
  • Confusion and memory loss
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Numbness or tingling in your arms, legs or face
  • Seizures, especially if you don't have another condition that causes seizures

All of these can be symptoms of other conditions, too. It's important to talk to your doctor about any symptoms that don't go away on their own after a week or two.

Diagnosis of glioma

The diagnosis process starts with a doctor reviewing your medical history. The doctor performs an exam to check your vision, hearing, balance and other functions. They may also check your eyes and examine your nerves for swelling.

The actual diagnosis of a glioma requires surgery. If your doctor suspects a glioma, they'll order a test called a CT scan and an MRI to get a picture of your brain. From there, your doctor can plan the surgery.

After removing the tumor, a sample of the tissue is sent for testing to receive a diagnosis.

Treatments for glioma

Doctors customize the treatment for a glioma for each patient. It depends on your health, the location of the glioma and the risks versus the benefits of treatment.

Surgery is the most common treatment for gliomas, and it's often necessary before your doctor considers other treatments. During the surgery, doctors remove the tumor and make an accurate diagnosis to move forward.

If surgery isn't a safe option, then your doctors may suggest radiation therapy to shrink the tumor. In other instances, radiation therapy comes after surgery to destroy any cancer cells left behind.

For advanced gliomas, doctors may recommend chemotherapy. This treatment is often used along with surgery and radiation therapy. Chemotherapy involves taking special medications that can kill cancer cells.

Recovery from glioma

Recovering from glioma takes time. The condition is treatable, and many patients have a good outcome.

Following surgery, you can expect to remain in the hospital for a few days. The doctors might keep you there longer if they need to monitor your condition longer.

Take it easy for several weeks following the surgery. You might feel tired and lethargic. Your doctors will look at brain scans following treatment to see if the glioma comes back. If so, you may need additional treatment.

Find a brain cancer specialist nearby

Mercy Health locations that can treat you