What Is a Glioma Tumor?

To date, science doesn't know why gliomas form. This is a tumor that appear in the brain or spinal cord, with an undetermined evolution that depends on the area where it has developed and the type of tumor in question. Learn more in this article!
What Is a Glioma Tumor?

Last update: 12 February, 2021

A glioma is a tumor that can appear in the brain or spinal cord. These tumors affect the functions of the brain and most specialists consider them life-threatening. Their severity depends on the exact area where they’re located and the speed at which they begin to grow.

There are several types of glioma and, depending on their specific characteristics, each of them has a different treatment and prognosis. Specialists have noted that they’re one of the most common primary tumors that occur in the brain.

Currently, different types of treatment are available for gliomas. Doctors use surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or all of these procedures together. They’re also in the process of testing different treatments.

What is a glioma?

A worried woman with a doctor.

In the central nervous system (brain and medulla) there are neurons which are highly specialized and differentiated cells. This means that each one of them only knows how to perform its own function, which consists of receiving information and then processing and emitting it.

For them to function properly, they have other cells around them. These serve as a support, provide energy, and collect the waste substances generated during the processes carried out by the neurons. The cells that perform these tasks are collectively known as glia.

The cells that make up the glia also come in different types: astrocytes, oligodendrocytes and ependymal cells, etc. Tumors form when there’s an abnormal increase in these cell types and are known as gliomas.

Types of glioma

Sometimes these tumors are benign, with very slow and minimally invasive growth in normal tissue. Other times, these tumors form very aggressively. This means they grow very easily and expand rapidly.

In principle, and according to their severity, gliomas are classified into four levels. I and II are benign; IV and V are malignant. Benign gliomas usually don’t give rise to serious symptoms, since the brain itself usually generates processes to adapt to them. Malignant gliomas can be devastating.

The type of cell involved also generates different types of glioma. There are basically three types of glial cells that can produce tumors. The most common are astrocytomas, ependymomas and oligodendrogliomas. The most aggressive form of these tumors is called glioblastoma multiforme.

Gliomas usually form in areas with a greater amount of brain tissue. Therefore, they most commonly appear in the frontal lobe, cerebral cortex and thalamus. However, this rule doesn’t apply to children.

Origin and characteristics

The human brain.

Science doesn’t exactly know why glioma tumors form. However, scientists have been able to establish the three most determining risk factors. They’re the following:

  • Age: Although glioma can appear at any age, it’s more frequent in people of 45 to 65 years old.
  • Radiation exposure: If a person has been near ionizing radiation, they have a higher risk of developing glioma. This type of radiation can be found in radiotherapy to treat cancer and in the radiation generated by atomic bombs.
  • Family history: A family history of glioma slightly increases the risk of developing one of these tumors.

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Benign tumors usually manifest themselves for the first time with an epileptic seizure. Malignant tumors, on the other hand, usually manifest with intracranial hypertension and the production of neurological deficits of different orders.

More interesting information on glioma tumors

In conclusion, a malignant glioma tumor can generate multiple manifestations, depending on where it’s located. Most commonly, it produces headaches, vomiting and a progressive loss of consciousness. In many cases, the patient’s intellectual capacity decreases and they lose muscle control, which includes loss of sphincter control.

In some cases, they also experience loss of sensitivity in some areas of the body, as well as alterations in vision and language. Memory abnormalities and gait difficulties are also common.

However, benign glioma tumors usually have an excellent prognosis. Basically, doctors treat it surgically: total removal and complete recovery are possible. Malignant gliomas, on the other hand, have a shorter life expectancy and an uncertain chance of improvement.

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