According to abbreviationfinder.org, glioma is a collective term for brain tumors or tumors of the central nervous system that develop from the glial cells (supporting cells of the nervous system). There are both benign and malignant forms of these tumors. Most gliomas develop in the brain, but the spinal cord can also be affected.
What are gliomas?
Gliomas are tumors that develop from the glial cells of the central nervous system. Glial cells represent so-called supporting cells of the nerve cells. They can be divided into astrocytes, oligodendrocytes and ependymal cells:
- The majority of glial cells can be assigned to astrocytes. These are star-shaped, branched cells that form the boundary membranes to the blood vessels and the surface of the brain.
- Oligodendrocytes form the myelin sheaths of the axons and represent satellite cells in the white and gray matter of the nervous system.
- The ependymal cells form a single layer of cells around the ventricles of the brain, separating the CSF from the brain tissue.
In Greek, the word glia also means glue. So glial cells are connecting cells in the central nervous system. Increased cell growth of these glial cells forms a tumor, which is called a glioma. Gliomas can be divided into astrocytomas, oligodendrogliomas (formerly oligodendrocytomas), ependymomas and mixed gliomas. According to the WHO, your degree of malignancy is divided into WHO grades I – IV. WHO grade I gliomas are considered benign.
WHO grade IV gliomas are already highly malignant. However, low-grade tumors can transform into high-grade tumors over time. Astrocytomas make up more than 60 percent of gliomas. A grade IV astrocytoma is called a glioblastoma and is the most common malignant brain tumor.
Not much is known about the causes of gliomas. Only up to five percent of all gliomas are hereditary. They form, among other things, in neurofibromatosis, in Turcot syndrome or in Li-Fraumeni syndrome. In all other cases, the gliomas occur sporadically.
A connection between ionizing radiation and an increased incidence of gliomas has already been established. It is also reported that, based on studies carried out, the WHO also classifies the intensive use of mobile phones as a risk for the development of gliomas.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
The symptoms of a glioma depend on the degree of malignancy and the location of the tumor. Slow-growing tumors can remain symptom-free for a long time. Complaints only occur when the rest of the brain tissue has been crowded out to a certain degree. An epileptic seizure may be the first symptom.
Due to the increasing intracranial pressure, severe headaches, constant nausea and vomiting are typical. Rapidly growing tumors can suddenly cause headaches and symptoms of paralysis. Therefore, there is a risk of confusion with a stroke. Character changes can also occur as the disease progresses.
Diagnosis & History
To diagnose a glioma, an extensive medical history is first required. If you have a long-lasting headache associated with constant nausea and vomiting, glioma can be thought of, among many other conditions.
If a mass has been confirmed by imaging methods such as MRI or CT, it is now necessary to find out which tumor it is. A tissue sample is taken for histological examination in the laboratory. A glioma can be diagnosed in this way. However, it is more difficult to determine the extent of the tumor.
Particularly malignant gliomas grow into the brain tissue and show a particularly inhomogeneous structure. It is therefore possible that the glioma cannot be fully recorded. In this way, fewer malignant areas could well have been discovered during the biopsy, although the tumor is more aggressive elsewhere.
Usually, a glioma causes the usual symptoms and complications of a tumor. The further course also depends heavily on whether the tumor is benign or malignant and whether it has already spread to other regions of the body. It is not uncommon for a glioma to lead to epileptic seizures and other problems in the brain.
The intracranial pressure can increase, which can lead to severe headaches. There is also vomiting and nausea. The patient’s quality of life is significantly reduced by the disease. In the worst case, if left untreated, the glioma can even lead to the death of the patient. The pain comes on very suddenly. A stroke can also occur, which is associated with various complications and symptoms.
Discomfort in the brain can also have a negative effect on the patient’s psyche and can also lead to depression. If the glioma can be surgically removed, there are no further complications. Chemotherapy or radiation may also be necessary.
Successful removal usually does not reduce quality of life. However, it cannot be ruled out that a glioma will recur. For this reason, the patient is dependent on regular check-ups.
When should you go to the doctor?
Such a brain tumor must be treated by a doctor, otherwise the chances of the person concerned surviving are very low. Early diagnosis of an existing brain tumor is very important because the earlier it is detected, the better the chances of a full and speedy recovery. Therefore, certain signs and symptoms should not be ignored. Unexplained and persistent headaches may indicate a brain tumor.
If the tumor presses on the auditory nerve from the inside, stabbing ear pain occurs, which general practitioners can usually not explain. For an accurate diagnosis, it is very important to see a doctor at an early stage. This is the only way to initiate appropriate therapy so that the chances of survival of the sick person increase significantly. However, if medical and drug treatment is avoided, the chances of recovery or survival are extremely low.
Treatment & Therapy
A WHO grade I glioma can be completely surgically removed. Tumors of this degree of malignancy have not yet migrated into the brain tissue and have not yet formed metastases. Complete removal of the tumor also means complete healing here. In the case of gliomas with a higher degree of malignancy, an operation is usually no longer sufficient. A radiotia (radio radiation treatment) must be connected. This involves targeted irradiation of the tumor bed.
It is currently being investigated to what extent whole-brain irradiation promises success in combating a glioma. In the case of glioblastomas, chemotherapy is also carried out at the same time. The results of glioma treatment are not yet satisfactory. While a low-grade brain tumor can heal completely after surgery, life expectancy for a glioblastoma is barely a year after its discovery.
However, therapy is often difficult even for grade II and III gliomas. These gliomas are characterized on the one hand by infiltrating and on the other hand by irregular growth. It is often not possible to remove all tumor foci during an operation. Eventually, complete resection of the tumor becomes impossible due to the diffuse penetration of tumor cells into the adjacent healthy tissue.
However, an extensive resection of the glioma makes sense, because then only smaller residual tumors have to be subjected to follow-up therapy. This can delay the formation of a recurrence. In the case of astrocytomas, either radiotherapy or chemotherapy is carried out as follow-up therapy. Oligodendroglial tumors are treated exclusively with PCV chemotherapy.
Outlook & Forecast
As with many other tumor diseases, the prognosis for glioma also depends on how early the disease was discovered and how far the tumor has progressed. Due to its location in the brain, the glioma has two other characteristics with regard to the chances of healing, which are usually not present in tumors in other organs:
On the one hand, it plays a major role in glioma in which part of the brain the tumor is located. If the mass is in a less important area, surgery may be possible with a large safety margin in healthy tissue. If this is the case, the chance increases that all cells of the tumor can be removed and the probability of recurrence decreases significantly, especially in benign tumors.
On the other hand, in the case of brain tumors, a distinction can be made between benign and malignant neoplasms. However, this is not always expedient with regard to the prognosis. If a benign tumor is located in an important center of the brain, i.e. it is inoperable, it is dangerous despite its benign nature.
As it grows, it displaces brain structures whose function is increasingly at risk. This is because cells are destroyed because the rigid cranial capsule offers no alternative. For this reason, the prognosis of a benign but rapidly growing tumor is not too favorable if the glioma does not respond adequately to radiation or chemotherapy.
There are no general recommendations for glioma prevention. The causes of gliomas are still largely unknown today. According to the WHO, there is a certain risk of developing glioma through intensive use of mobile phones. Ionizing radiation should also be avoided in the work area because all studies agree that this is a high risk factor for the development of gliomas.
Glioma is a brain disease that requires consistent follow-up care once treatment is complete. On the one hand, this is about regenerating the consequences of the stressful therapy in order to offer the body, but also the mind and soul, the opportunity to relax. On the other hand, it is of course also a matter of recognizing a possible recurrence as early as possible and carrying out an adequate therapy.
Follow-up care is usually carried out by the attending physician, for example a neurologist, in conjunction with the general practitioner. Physiotherapists, speech therapists and occupational therapists are often involved in the aftercare of glioma. The radiologist also takes over the control using imaging methods.
The patient can effectively support aftercare measures through a healthy lifestyle in everyday life. Sufficient sleep is just as important as a healthy diet with sufficient fluids. Sport and exercise are discussed with the doctor and can have a positive effect on motor problems. Self-help groups support the psychological handling of the disease.
Relaxation methods and yoga also help the mind and soul to regenerate. Jacobsen’s progressive muscle relaxation and autogenic training are recommended relaxation methods. Talking to relatives and friends helps to cope better with the situation. Social activities not only offer company, but also the distraction that is sometimes needed.
You can do that yourself
Glioma is a type of tumor that generally requires medical treatment. Nevertheless, there are also some measures for the patient that can be taken as part of self-help in everyday life.
The first step is to support regeneration after treatment such as surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy. This is possible, for example, if a patient also carries out any exercises learned in physiotherapy or ergotherapy at home. Exhaustion can often be observed after intensive therapy.
This can often be offset by moderate sporty and fun training. In some sports, such as swimming or climbing, it is important that any potential readiness for seizures is well prevented with medication. Of course, this also applies in particular to driving vehicles. In the mental area, functional disorders can be improved through special memory training or puzzles on your own.
After being diagnosed with a brain tumor, many of those affected also feel emotionally burdened. The psychological tension can be reduced in different ways: Affected people who want to work through the disease directly can talk about their glioma in conversations with people they trust or in self-help groups. Anyone who does not want to make the glioma an issue after the therapy and outside of the important follow-up checks can stabilize their mental state through yoga or relaxation methods.