A glioma is a type of brain cancer that starts in the glial cells of the brain. Glial cells support and protect the nervous system. Gliomas are named after the part of the brain they start in – for example – a brainstem glioma.
The four main types of gliomas are:
- Astrocytomas (the most common type of glioma)
- Mixed gliomas (these are a combination of the above types of glioma)
What causes a glioma?
The causes of gliomas are unknown.
What are the Symptoms?
Depending on the location and size of the glioma, symptoms may include:
- Memory loss
- Vision changes
- Difficulty walking
- Change in personality
- Loss of feeling in limbs or weakness
- Unusual eye movement
TIP: If you have any of these symptoms you should have them checked by your doctor - but remember they are common to other illnesses too.
How are Gliomas Diagnosed?
After visiting a GP a referral will possibly be made to a hospital for further tests. After asking the patient about their medical history the doctor may order the following tests:
- Physical examination
- CT Scan
- MRI Scan
- Biopsy- part of the suspect tissue may be removed for further investigation.
Other tests may include:
- Testing hearing
- Checking the patients vision, balance, coordination and reflexes.
If the results of the test show there is a type of glioma present, the patient will be referred to a doctor who specialises in the treatment of diseases of the brain (called a neurologist), possibly a neurosurgeon (a brain surgeon) and an oncologist (cancer doctor).
Once the cancer is diagnosed, it will be graded. This means that cells will be looked at under a microscope and the rate in which they grow will be determined.
Cells that look mostly normal (and are slow-growing) are given a lower grade than cells that look abnormal (and are fast-growing).
There are four grades. Grades 1 and 2 are low-grade, and grade 3 and 4 are high-grade.
- Grade I- Slow growing tumour with cells that are slowly dividing.
- Grade II- Slow growing tumour with cells that are dividing more rapidly.
- Anaplastic Grade III- These brain tumours are considered a higher grade tumour and are considered more aggressive than grade I and II.
- Glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) Grade IV- Similar to Grade III tumours they are considered more aggressive and are more likely to spread than lower grade tumours.
How are gliomas treated?
Treatment for gliomas can include one or all of the following:
Chemotherapy for a glioma
Chemotherapy is not used to treat all brain tumours. If chemotherapy is used as a type of treatment, the stage and type of tumour will determine which type of chemotherapy drug is used.
Chemotherapy may be given after surgery or in conjunction with and after radiotherapy.
For people who have a high-grade primary brain tumour where the tumour has come back, chemo may be used to shrink or slow down the growth of the tumour so as to reduce symptoms.
Chemotherapy for brain tumours can be given in the following ways:
- In tablet or capsule form.
- Intravenously: by injecting the drug into the vein.
- By implanting small gel wafers or discs which contain the chemo drug carmustinel in the area of the brain tumour during surgery. The wafer/disc dissolves and the drug is slowly released.
Chemotherapy to treat brain tumours can usually be given as outpatient treatment.
For more information go to our chemotherapy fact sheet.
Radiotherapy for a glioma
Radiotherapy can be used to treat a glioma in the following ways:
- After surgery to treat any cancer cells that are left.
- Radiotherapy may also be given in conjunction with chemotherapy.
- It may also be used to treat a primary tumour that has come back after surgery or one that can’t be removed.
- Radiotherapy can also be used to treat secondary brain tumours.
A secondary brain tumour occurs when cancer cells formed in another part of the body spread to the brain.
- The type and size of the tumour will determine the length of your treatment. In general, radiotherapy will be given as a series of short daily sessions from Monday to Friday, for 2-6 weeks.
For more information go to our radiotherapy fact sheet.
Surgery for a glioma
Surgery for a glioma is called a craniotomy which is a procedure that involves cutting a hole in the skull so that a section of the tumour or the removal of the tumour can be done by a neurosurgeon.
This is done under general anaesthetic, however they may require the patient to be awake for part of the operation. This is so that doctors can check brain function during surgery.
In some cases the only way for the surgeon to remove the tumour is to go through healthy brain tissue. This may cause damage. If this is the case, the surgeon will talk through carefully how this may affect brain function after the operation. Make sure you are fully aware of all the risks of surgery.
For more information go to our surgery fact sheet.