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Glioma: Types, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Options

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In the brain, there are glial cells that provide support and protection for nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain. The abnormal growth of these cells can lead to the formation of tumors, which are called gliomas.

What is a glioma?

Glioma is a type of tumor that is developed in the brain that you can call in the spinal cord. It is one of the most common types of primary brain tumors: about 33% of brain tumors are gliomas. Although they can appear at any age, they are more common in adults. 

What are the types of glioma?

The term glioma is used to generally group a tumor that arises from glial cells. Because there are three types of glial cells that produce tumors, gliomas are classified according to the type of glial cell involved in the tumor. So, the types of gliomas are as follows:

  • Astrocytomas

This tumor usually appears in the brain, although it can also develop in the cerebellum. About half of primary brain tumors are astrocytomas, making them also the most common form of gliomas. This type of glioma can develop in both adults and children.

  • Ependymomas

These tumors can appear in the brain or spinal cord. Ependymomas are rare tumors, accounting for less than 5% of all primary brain tumors. On the contrary, they represent up to 10% of childhood brain tumors.

  • Oligodendrogliomas

These tumors usually occur in the frontal and temporal lobes. They account for about 5% of primary brain tumors and typically affect young to middle-aged adults. 

What are the causes of glioma?

As is the case with most primary brain tumors, the exact cause of gliomas is not known. However, there are a number of factors that may or may not increase the risk of suffering from them, such as:

  • Age

Although a brain tumor can appear at any age, the risk increases as you get older, making adults between the ages of 45 and 60 more likely.

  • Exposure to radiation

It is suspected that exposure to ionizing radiation may also increase the chances of developing a glioma.

  • Family history

5% of cases of these tumors are associated with genetic factors.

What are the symptoms of glioma?

Most glioma patients do not have symptoms right away, as the tumor grows slowly and starts to cause problems when it puts pressure on the brain.

The signs or symptoms vary according to the location and size of the tumor, but there are a series of common signs that allow us to identify the presence of a glioma:

  • Headache
  • nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of memory
  • balance problems
  • Irritability or personality changes
  • urinary incontinence
  • speech difficulties
  • Double or blurred vision
  • seizures

If you have any of these symptoms and your GP suspects it may be a glioma, you will most likely be referred to a specialist doctor who can carry out the necessary tests to make a diagnosis, such as a neurological exam or MRI.

What are the treatment options for glioma?

Once your glioma, its location, size, and growth rate have been identified, you can undergo the following treatments. Your doctor will be in charge of explaining to you what would be the ideal according to your condition.

  1. Surgery

Surgery to remove all or most of the tumor is usually the first step in treating the various types of gliomas. There are two scenarios: your tumor is small and easy to remove, or it is located in a sensitive area of ​​the brain, which makes the operation risky.

By simply removing a portion of the tumor, your symptoms can be lessened and your quality of life greatly improved. You must bear in mind that this type of surgery carries risks such as infections or bleeding. Likewise, factors such as your age or health are considered before offering you this alternative.

  • Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is one of the best-known treatments to fight cancer. It uses drugs like temozolomide to kill tumor cells. Cancer patients can take them orally, as tablets, or injected intravenously.

  • Targeted drug therapy

Unlike chemotherapy, this type of treatment focuses on targeting specific abnormalities within cancer cells. The type of medication used will depend on the type of glioma you have developed.

  • Radiosurgery

For those who cannot have surgery or are looking for a less risky alternative, radiosurgery is your best option. It is an outpatient procedure that is responsible for emitting focused radiation doses to the tumor with the aim of killing its cells. This treatment does not affect the healthy tissue around the glioma and can treat multiple tumors at the same time.