What is a 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, as well as the tumor's genetic features, which can help predict how the tumor will behave over time and the treatments most likely to work.

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

A glioma can affect your brain function and be life-threatening depending on its location and rate of growth.

Gliomas are one of the most common types of primary brain tumors.


Risk Factors

There is no obvious cause of glioma. They can occur in people of all ages but are more common in adults. Gliomas are slightly more likely to affect men than women, and Caucasian people than African-American people.

But there are some factors that may increase your risk of a brain tumor. Risk factors include:

  • Your age. Your risk of a brain tumor increases as you age. Gliomas are most common in adults between ages 45 and 65 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 microwave ovens have not been shown to increase the risk of glioma.



If a brain tumor is suspected, a brain scan is typically done. This includes a CT scan, an MRI scan (considered to be superior), or both. If the brain scan suggests a brain tumor, a biopsy may be performed for diagnosis. A biopsy may be done as a separate procedure or at the time the tumor is removed if surgery is a treatment option.



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. The patient should be otherwise relatively healthy, and brain function, speech, and mobility is able to be maintained. Imaging techniques such cortical mapping 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 without affecting important brain function. 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.
  • Targeted therapy is a newer type of treatment that may be used to help shrink tumors. It works differently than chemotherapy in that it targets certain proteins that help tumors grow.
  • Alternating 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 use in both newly diagnosed adults and adults 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.





  • Gliomas account for 80% of all malignant brain tumors
  • 35% of childhood brain tumors are astrocytomas







  • Glioma is a broad category of brain and spinal cord tumors that come from glial cells brain cells that support nerve cells. “Brain Cancer and Gliomas.” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/cancer/brain-cancer/malignant-gliomas#2.
  • “Glioma | American Brain Tumor Association | Learn More.” American Brain Tumor Association, www.abta.org/tumor_types/glioma/.
  • “Glioma.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 12 Apr. 2019, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/glioma/symptoms-causes/syc-20350251.
  • “Gliomas.” Gliomas | Johns Hopkins Medicine, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/gliomas.
  • Hammas, Nawal, et al. “Astroblastoma - a Rare and Challenging Tumor: a Case Report and Review of the Literature.” Journal of Medical Case Reports, BioMed Central, 21 Apr. 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5910607/.

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