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What are Gliomas?

Gliomas are brain tumors that develop in the brain or spinal cord from the glial cells that form brain tissue. Glial cells are the most common cells found in the brain, and they surround and support neurons. When glial cells divide and multiply rapidly, a glioma forms.

Gliomas are primary brain tumors; they form in the brain and are not a result of cancer spreading from another area of the body. They are often malignant and can be difficult to treat depending upon their location in the brain.

There are three main types of glial cells that form gliomas – astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, and ependymal cells. Each of these types of cells produce gliomas with distinctive characteristics.

Astrocytomas account for about 75% of all gliomas, and are classified as Grade 1 through 4, according to how fast they grow and how aggressive they are, which defines the level of malignancy.

Ependymomas are a type of glioma derived from ependymal cells that line the ventricles in the lower part of the brain and the central canal of the spinal cord. Ependymomas are the most common type of brain tumor found in children.

Oligodendrogliomas develop from oligodendrocyte glial cells, which form the protective myelin coatings around the nerve cells. Oligodendrogliomas are rare.

There are other far less common types of gliomas that contain a mixture of cells from different types of glial cells, including brainstem glioma and optic nerve glioma.

What You Can Expect at UTHealth Houston Neurosciences

At UTHealth Houston Neurosciences, neurologists, neurosurgeons, interventional pain management specialists, neuro-oncologists, radiation oncologists, and neuropathologists work together to determine the care each patient needs, discussing treatment options as a group. This approach saves our patients time and money and allows our specialists to share each other’s insights, leading to better treatment decision-making and outcomes.

We first investigate options for nonsurgical treatment, including medical management, pain management, physical therapy, rehabilitation, and watchful waiting. When surgery is needed, our neurosurgeons routinely employ innovative minimally invasive techniques. Throughout the treatment process, our team works closely with the doctor who referred you to ensure a smooth transition back to your regular care plan. While you are with us, you can expect expert care, excellent communication, and genuine compassion.

Causes of Gliomas

There is no known cause for gliomas, although they occur more frequently in adults.

Early Signs of Glioma and Diagnosis

Some symptoms of glioma, such as headaches or a change in cognition, may appear gradually and worsen over time. Other signs, such as a seizure or loss of motor function, may appear suddenly. As a glioma begins to grow in an area of the brain or spinal cord, pressure increases on the tissue. Symptoms may include headaches, nausea and/or vomiting, seizures, double vision, drowsiness or lethargy, mood or personality changes, loss of motor function, weakness or numbness, speech difficulty, and/or memory loss.

Diagnosis and staging of glioma may involve neurological exams of the eyes, vision, muscle strength, and reflexes; MRI or CT scans; position emission tomography; and biopsy to remove a sample of tissue for pathological testing.


The standard treatment for brain tumors is surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and/or targeted therapies. Your treatment team will recommend the best treatment for glioma depending on the location of the tumor, whether it has spread, its grade, and your general health and fitness. At UTHealth Houston Neurosciences you can expect the latest advancements in diagnosis and treatment, as well as access to international multicenter clinical trials.

Some tumors may require watchful waiting as neurologists and neurosurgeons track changes, while higher-grade tumors will require surgery and/or radiation and chemotherapy, high-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant, targeted therapy that attacks cancer cells without harming normal cells, immunotherapy, or new types of treatments being tested in clinical trials.

Neurologists, neurosurgeons, neuro-oncologists, and radiation oncologists discuss cases in depth weekly at a tumor board review. Working as a team ensures that each patient benefits from the full spectrum of expertise and the best treatment options available, including new drug therapies and immunotherapies being tested in clinical trials.

Clinical Trials

When conventional therapies prove unsuccessful, we provide our patients access to leading-edge clinical trials of investigational drugs and procedures.

View trials related to brain tumors here »

Brain Tumor Types

Acoustic neuroma
Arachnoid Cyst
Brain metastases
Choroid plexus tumor
Facts about brain tumors
Gamma Knife Radiosurgery
Germ cell tumor
Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM)
Malignant meningioma
Pituitary adenoma and Cushing’s syndrome
Pituitary tumor
Skull base tumor

Contact Us

At UTHealth Houston Neurosciences, we offer patients access to specialized neurological care at clinics across the greater Houston area. To ask us a question, schedule an appointment, or learn more about us, please call (713) 486-8000, or click below to send us a message. In the event of an emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest Emergency Room.