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What do I have?
Oligodendrogliomas are brain tumors that come from a type of brain cell known as an oligodendrocyte. These tumors are known for having the appearance of many small “fried eggs” when looked at under a microscope. The slowest growing of these tumors is described as a low grade oligodendroglioma (grade 2); the faster growing type is the anaplastic oligodendroglioma (grade 3). Some oligodendrogliomas also contain astrocytes, a different type of brain cell, and may be called oligoastrocytomas.
What does it do?
The brain has specialized areas that help us control individual functions, so if a tumor develops in the part of the brain that controls the right leg, you may have weakness, numbness or seizures in that leg. If a tumor develops in the part of the brain that controls language, you may have trouble speaking or understanding. Most tumors are found because they cause a symptom that leads your doctors to check an MRI or CT of the brain.
How long have I had it?
Most of the time we can’t tell how long a brain tumor has been there. Sometimes we can tell based on how long you may have had symptoms before you were diagnosed. If you have a low grade oligodendroglioma, it is possible that the tumor has been there for many years before it started causing any symptoms. If you have an anaplastic oligodendroglioma, it is possible that it started out as a low grade oligodendroglioma and has been there for many years.
How can it be treated?
Low grade oligodendrogliomas are usually treated with a combination of surgery and radiation. If the tumor is located in an area where it is safe to remove, then your neurosurgeon will attempt to remove as much as possible, and sometimes this is all the treatment you will need at the beginning. Your doctors will monitor your tumor with MRI scans every few months and if the tumor appears to be growing, your doctors will then consider additional surgery or starting treatment with radiation.
Anaplastic oligodendrogliomas are known for being very responsive to chemotherapy. For this reason, after surgery, patients will often receive a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy. At the University of Rochester, we are part of the Oligodendroglioma Study Group and depending on your type of tumor, you may be eligible for a clinical trial through this consortium.
What caused it?
No one knows for sure what causes olifodendrogliomas, although exposure to radiation may increase the likelihood of developing a brain tumor. While scientists have looked at other possible causes such as aspartame (Nutrasweet), cell phones, and power lines, no one has been able to show that any of these clearly cause oligodendrogliomas.
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