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Woman with headache

A glioma is a tumor that forms in specialized glial cells in the brain or spinal cord. These non-neuronal cells support, connect and protect neurons in the central and peripheral nervous systems. Based on the type of glial cell affected, a glioma may be classified as an astrocytoma, brain stem glioma, ependymoma, oligodendroglioma or optic pathway glioma.

Gliomas are more often cancerous than not. Cancerous gliomas are assigned a grade ranging from 1 through 4 based on their growth pattern and cellular appearance when viewed under a microscope. Grades 1 and 2 are low-grade gliomas, which usually grow slowly and can often be effectively treated. Grades 3 and 4 are high-grade gliomas, which tend to be more aggressive. If left untreated, a low-grade glioma can progress into a high-grade glioma.

Glioma treatment usually involves surgery. Because most low-grade gliomas are relatively small and easily detached from the surrounding tissues, they can often be removed in their entirety. If complete removal of the tumor is not possible, surgery may be followed by radiation therapy, chemotherapy or targeted therapy to destroy the remaining cancerous cells.

If you’d like to learn more about treatment options, the experts at Moffitt can help when you submit a new patient appointment request.
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Early warning signs of low-grade glioma

Low-grade glioma symptoms can vary based on the type, size and location of the tumor. The first warning sign may be a persistent headache, which can occur if the glioma presses on sensitive nerve tissues in the brain or spinal cord.

Common symptoms of low-grade glioma

As a low-grade glioma progresses, it may begin to affect speech and vision as well as neurological and motor function.

What does low-grade glioma feel like?

A glioma headache is usually constant and may intensify at night, in the early morning or with coughing, sneezing or straining. Some people have dull, “pressure-type” pain, while others experience sharp, stabbing pain. While the headache may initially respond to over-the-counter pain relievers, the pain may become resistant to medication over time.

In addition to a headache, a low-grade glioma can cause other symptoms that can be felt, such as:

  • Loss of balance
  • Numbness or muscle weakness, especially on one side of the body
  • Difficulty walking
  • Loss of peripheral vision
  • Difficulty speaking and understanding speech
  • Dizzy spells and seizures

What does low-grade glioma look like?

In medical images, such as computed tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, a low-grade glioma may appear as a mass in the brain or spinal cord. The appearance of the glioma can vary based on its type and location and whether it is benign or cancerous.

Symptoms of high-grade glioma

A high-grade glioma may cause:

  • Severe headaches
  • Seizures that are not easily controlled with medication
  • Progressive neurological deficits, such as loss of coordination
  • Personality or behavioral changes
  • Cognitive decline
  • Visual disturbances

Benefit from world-class care at Moffitt Cancer Center

The multispecialty team in Moffitt’s Neuro-Oncology Program includes world-class neurosurgeons, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, neuropathologists and other specialists who have unparalleled expertise in diagnosing and treating all types of brain cancer, including low-grade glioma. Utilizing state-of-the-art techniques and technologies, we can strike the optimal balance between maximizing tumor removal and preserving neurological function.

If you would like to learn more about low-grade glioma signs and symptoms, you can request an appointment with a specialist in Moffitt’s Neuro-Oncology Program by calling 1-888-663-3488 or submitting a new patient registration form online. We do not require referrals.