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Gliomas are a type of brain tumour. Find out what causes them, types of gliomas and possible symptoms.

Key points

  • Neurons carry messages between the brain and the body. Glial cells hold the neurons in place.
  • A glioma is a tumour that is caused by a mutation in a glial cell.
  • Symptoms of gliomas depend on their location and can include headaches, vomiting and double vision.

Gliomas are a type of brain tumour

Cancers get their name from the type of cell they develop from. Gliomas, a type of brain tumour, are named after cells in the brain called glial cells.

Glial cells

The name glial, or glia, comes from a Greek word that means "glue". Glial cells are kind of like glue for the neurons in your brain in that they hold the neurons in place. Remember that there are billions of neurons in the brain and that these neurons carry messages between your brain and your body.

Glial cells are the neurons’ helpers. When neurons carry messages around the body, they require a lot of energy. Glial cells supply the neurons with the energy and oxygen they need. Glial cells also protect nerves from things that might harm them such as bacteria.

What are gliomas?

A glioma is a tumour that starts from a mutation (a change in the DNA) in a glial cell. There are different types of glial cells and each one has its own name and job. As a result, there are different types of gliomas. Some types of gliomas are:

  • astrocytomas
  • ependymomas
  • oligodendroglioma
  • mixed glioma – the tumour includes more than one type of cell.

Your glioma may also be given a grade between 1 and 4. The grade of your glioma is used to plan your treatment and to give an idea of how your cancer will progress in the future.

  • A low grade glioma (grade 1 or 2) grows slowly, is often benign, and is less likely to spread.
  • A high grade glioma (grade 3 or 4) grows more quickly and is cancerous or malignant. It is more likely to spread to other parts of the brain and spinal cord.

Gliomas can happen in any area of the brain or spinal cord. Symptoms of a glioma depend on where the glioma is located in the brain. Often symptoms include headaches, vomiting, double vision or changes in behaviour.

If you have any questions about your type of glioma, what it means, your treatment or anything else about your cancer, ask someone on your health-care team. Your doctors and nurses want to help you understand.

Last updated: September 3rd 2019