Conditions + Treatments

Glioma in Children

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"Because almost all children with low-grade glioma survive, we need to consider their long term health, so we almost always use chemotherapy, even though it is much more difficult to administer than radiation. We don't always do what's easiest, we do what's right." - Mark Kieran, MD, PhD, Director, Pediatric Medical Neuro-Oncology

Glioma is a type of brain cancer, many of which are highly treatable and highly curable. The most common form of glioma is a low-grade astrocytoma, which has a cure rate of above 90 percent.

Glioma is a type of brain cancer originating from glial cells, which support the neurons in the brain, so they can communicate to one another, and allow a person to think. Glial cells are more likely to become cancer than neurons.

  • There are three main types of glial cells: astrocytes, oligodendrocytes and ependycytes. Each of these cells can give rise to a brain tumor, called astrocytomas, oligodenrogliomas and ependymomas.
  • Gliomas account for 25 percent of pediatric cancers, 2 out of 3 pediatric cancers are low grade gliomas and the remaining third are high grade gliomas.
  • There are more than 2,500 pediatric glioma cases a year in the United States.
  • There are four grades of astrocytomas.
    • Grade 1 and 2 are low grade gliomas
    • Grade 3 and 4 are high grade gliomas
  • The cure rate for low grade gliomas is greater than 90 percent, while the cure rate for high-grade glioma is approximately 5 to10 percent.
  • Surgical removal of and chemotherapy are the most common treatments for low grade gliomas while surgical removal and radiation therapy are the most common treatments for high grade gliomas.
  • Radiation is used for most high grade tumors of the brain but it is very rarely used for low grade gliomas because of the high risk of adverse side effects such as:
    • stunted growth
    • hormone imbalance
    • risk of stroke
    • development of other cancers
    • delayed cognitive development
  • The quality of an affected child’s life depends in part on what part of the brain is affected, as each part of the brain controls a unique function
  • There are a few genetic syndromes that are associated with the development of brain tumors in children. The two most common ones in neurofibromatosis with low grade gliomas and Li-Fraumeni syndrome with aggressive, malignant cancers, including high grade glioma.

How Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s approaches glioma

The Low Grade Glioma Program at Boston Children’s is a multidisciplinary program dedicated to researching and delivering cutting edge treatments for low grade gliomas. Since many of our practicing physicians are also active researchers, your child will get the very best and up to date treatments available. 

Patients with glioma are treated through the Glioma Program at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, an integrated pediatric hematology and oncology partnership between Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Boston Children’s Hospital.

The Low Grade Glioma Program is working on clinical trials for personalized medicine drugs, which is a new approach to medicine that targets specific parts of the cancer based on looking at the genes of a person. Each patient is unique, and we not only provide unique treatments, we provide unique care through programs, such as the Back to School Program.

Survivorship clinic

Dana-Farber's Stop&Shop Pediatric Brain Tumor Survivors Program helps survivors of childhood cancer and their families address the long-term effects of therapy.

Glioma Overview: Reviewed by Mark Kieran, MD, PhD
© Boston Children’s Hospital, 2012

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