What Is a Glial Tumor?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 08 August 2019
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A glial tumor is a malignant growth in the central nervous system derived from cells known as glial cells. Several types of glial cells are present in the body, and they can grow into astrocytomas, ependymal tumors, oligodendrogliomas, and mixed gliomas, among others. Survival rates with these cancers can be low because they are aggressive and are found in an extremely sensitive area of the body. Patients may experience brain damage that can result in severe complications like loss of speech and motor control, depending on the precise location of the growth.

The reasons for the development of glial tumors are poorly understood, although there appear to be some risk factors including exposure to radiation, genetics, and gender. Like other tumors, they start when cells begin to divide out of control and they are not put in check by the body. They develop into a growth which can start invading surrounding tissue. A patient with a glial tumor can develop high pressure inside the skull and may experience symptoms like vision loss, slurred speech, staggering gait, and memory problems.

Medical imaging studies can show a glial tumor and provide information about the location. Determining the specific cell type involved can also be helpful, as this may help with grading and classifying the tumor to determine how aggressive and dangerous it is. This can help a medical provider make recommendations to the patient.


There are several treatment options for a glial tumor. Ideally, the growth should be resected in a surgery to remove it from the central nervous system. This can be challenging, as the site may be hard to access or there could be concerns about damaging the patient’s brain in the procedure. If surgery is a viable option, it is usually performed by a neurosurgeon, who also carefully evaluates the patient throughout the recovery process to check for complications.

Radiation to shrink the tumor can also be a possibility. One concern with radiation is that exposure is linked with the development of glial tumors, so the treatment could put the patient at risk of a recurrence, but the benefits might outweigh this risk. Chemotherapy treatments are also available to tackle tumors with medications that target cell growth and proliferation.

Prognosis can be poor with this kind of tumor, and many patients do not live beyond 12 to 24 months after diagnosis. Catching the growth early can improve the patient’s chances, as can treating it as aggressively as possible. Patients may find it helpful to go to a specialty clinic that focuses on glial tumor care to get access to the best treatment and care providers.


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