The Most Common Type of Primary Brain Tumor

What Is It?

A glioma is a tumor of the brain that arises from glial cells. Glial cells can be thought of as the "helper" cells in the nervous system. They aid the nerve cells so that they can perform their functions normally. When these glial cells give rise to a tumor, it is called a glioma.

These are the most common general type of tumor that arises from the brain itself. The class includes several sub-types of tumors, including astrocytomas, ependymomas, oligodendrogliomas and glioblastoma multiforme. They can occur just about anywhere in the brain and spinal cord.

These tumors can vary in their aggressiveness pathologically. They can vary from more benign tumors ("low grade") to more malignant ("high grade"). Generally, benign tumors are more slow growing and less invasive and destructive to normal brain tissue while more malignant tumors grow quickly, invade tissue and are more destructive. All of these tumors are graded on a 4-point scale as either grade I, grade II, grade III or grade IV. Grade I tumors are the most benign and Grade IV tumors are the most malignant. Some types of grade IV tumors are also known as glioblastoma multiforme.

What Types of Symptoms Are Typical?

Symptoms can vary widely depending on the specific type of tumor, its size and location. Neurological symptoms occur depending on where the tumor is. The tumor can be destructive of normal brain tissue so symptoms may arise from the dysfunction of the normal brain in the area of the tumor. This can include just about any neurological symptom but common ones include weakness or numbness, visual changes, memory loss, etc. Again, this varies significantly from patient to patient depending on the specific tumor.

In addition, any mass within the head can lead to increased pressure which can cause headaches, nausea and vomiting, all of which are common symptoms of neurological diseases. Another possible symptom is the new onset of seizures in a person who previously did not have a seizure disorder.

How Is The Diagnosis Typically Made?

After a thorough neurological examination, typically a CT scan or MRI scan with contrast dye is ordered. These scans can provide a "window into the head", allowing doctors to see tumors or other pathology. This is done both to determine if the patient has a tumor and to determine the characteristics of that tumor (size, shape, location, etc.).

While the appearance of the tumor can help narrow the possibilities, a definitive diagnosis usually requires some tumor tissue to be obtained so that a pathologist can examine it. This is often done with either a biopsy, to remove just a small piece of tumor, or surgery to remove a significant portion of the tumor.

Once tissue is obtained, the pathologist can generally tell exactly what type of tumor it is and grade it in terms of severity. A glioma can be considered more benign or more malignant, depending on the specific pathology. While some are slow growing and less aggressive, some, such as glioblastoma multiforme, are very malignant and can spread rapidly.

What Are Some Common Treatments?

Once tissue is obtained, the pathologist can generally tell exactly what type of tumor it is and grade it in terms of severity. Further treatment, such as further surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy all depend on the specific type and severity of the tumor. These treatment decisions can only be made by the patient's physician along with the patient and cannot be generalized.

Generally, these treatment decisions will often be related to how malignant the tumor is and its specific pathology.

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Important Note: This site is not intended to offer medical advice. Every patient is different, and only your personal physician can help to counsel you about what is best for your situation. What we offer is general reference information about various disorders and treatments for your education.

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