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UR Medicine


Low Grade Glioma

For more information, please visit our Comprehensive Brain & Spinal Tumor site

What do I have?

Low grade gliomas are brain tumors that come from two different types of brain cells known as astrocytes and oligodendrocytes. They are classified as a grade 2 tumor making them the slowest growing type of glioma in adults.

What does it do?

The most common symptom caused by low grade gliomas are seizures. These can be small seizures that you barely notice, resulting in unusual smells, funny feelings in your stomach or brief spells that you can’t explain. Low grade gliomas can also result in larger seizures that affect your ability to talk or lead to shaking movements of your arms and legs. Other symptoms that we can see are headaches, problems with speaking or understanding, personality changes, memory difficulty, numbness, weakness, and vision problems. Like other brain tumors, low grade gliomas cause symptoms depending on what part of the brain they are located in. The brain has specialized areas that help us control speech, sensation, movement, memory, vision, and many other functions. For example, if a brain tumor grows in the part of the brain that controls the right leg, you may have weakness or numbness in that leg. It might also give you seizures that involve the right leg. If you have a tumor 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. Sometimes, a patient does not have any symptoms, and the tumor is found when a MRI or CT is done for other reasons.

How long have I had it?

In general, we don’t always know how long you have had a low grade glioma. Sometimes we can figure out how long it has been there based on how it looks on an MRI or because you have had symptoms in the past.

How can it be treated?

Low grade gliomas are usually treated with a combination of surgery, observation, and radiation. If the tumor is located in an area where it is safe to remove, then the neurosurgeon will attempt to remove as much as possible. Sometimes this is all the treatment you will need at the beginning and your doctors will monitor your tumor with MRI scans every few months. If the tumor appears to be growing, your doctors will then consider either doing another surgery or starting treatment with radiation. There is no proven role for chemotherapy in treating low grade gliomas, but when the tumor grows despite radiation and chemotherapy, your doctors may decide to use it.

Even if the entire visible tumor is taken out at surgery, there are usually some tumor cells that have invaded neighboring parts of the brain. These cells have the ability to grow and cause the tumor to come back. Eventually, most low grade gliomas will continue to grow and then develop into a higher grade tumor such as the grade 3 or grade 4 tumors.

What caused it?

In general, we don’t know what causes low grade gliomas. If your brain has been exposed to radiation in the past, you may be more likely to develop a brain tumor. Scientists have looked at other possible causes such as aspartame (Nutrasweet), cell phones, and power lines, but no one has been able to show that any of these clearly cause brain tumors.

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