What is a glioma?

A glioma is a kind of brain tumor that originates from glial cells that support and nourish neurons in the brain. Gliomas account for about 25 percent of childhood cancers, and most gliomas are both highly treatable and highly curable. The most common kind of glioma, called a pilocytic astrocytoma, has a cure rate over 90 percent.

Gliomas are divided into four grades, depending on the tumor cells' appearance under a microscope — the higher a tumor's grade number, the more severe it is. Grades 1 and 2 are considered low-grade gliomas and account for about two-thirds of all pediatric tumors. Grades 3 and 4 are considered high-grade gliomas. Gliomas can also be classified based on their location and by the kind of glial cell — astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, or ependymocytes — from which they arise.

What are the symptoms of gliomas?

As a glioma grows, it presses on surrounding healthy parts of the brain, affecting their function. As such, the symptoms of a pediatric glioma depend heavily on the tumor's size and where in the brain it is located. Some of the most common symptoms of a pediatric glioma include:

  • headache
  • severe or frequent vomiting
  • vision problems such as double vision, blurry vision, or loss of vision
  • difficulty walking or balancing
  • seizures
  • weight gain or loss
  • premature puberty
  • clumsiness
  • confusion
  • sleepiness

How we care for gliomas

Children and adolescents with glioma are treated at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorder Center through the Brain Tumor Center's Glioma Program, one of the largest and most experienced pediatric glioma programs in the world.

Our glioma specialists — a team of neuro-oncologists, surgeons, pathologists, and radiation oncologists — focus solely on the care of children diagnosed with gliomas. The Glioma Program also offers families the chance to have their child's tumor molecularly profiled (as long as a biopsy can be taken), which may help identify opportunities for targeted treatment.

Our areas of research for giomas

Research is a top priority at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's, and our physicians work continuously to translate laboratory findings into clinical therapies and find ways to improve survival while reducing the toxicity and long-term impact of treatment. 

It’s possible that your child will be eligible to participate in one of the Glioma Program’s current clinical trials. In addition to launching our own clinical trials, we also offer trials available through collaborative groups such as the Children's Oncology Group (COG) and the Pacific Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Consortium (PNOC).