Low-grade Glioma

What are low-grade gliomas?

Low-grade gliomas are brain tumors that originate from glial cells, which support and nourish neurons in the brain. Glial tumors, or gliomas, are divided into four grades, depending on their cells' appearance under a microscope. Grade 1 and 2 gliomas are considered low-grade and account for about two-thirds of all pediatric tumors.

In addition to their grade, low-grade gliomas are also classified based on their location and by the kind of glial cell – astrocytes, oligodendrocytes or ependymocytes – from which they arise. Most low-grade gliomas are both highly treatable and highly curable. The most common kind of low-grade glioma, called a pilocytic astrocytoma, has a cure rate over 90 percent.

What are the symptoms of low-grade gliomas?

Low-grade gliomas are slow-growing tumors. As they grow, they press on surrounding healthy parts of the brain, affecting their function. As such, the symptoms of a pediatric low-grade glioma depend on the tumor's size and where in the brain it is located. Some of the most common symptoms of a pediatric low-grade glioma may include:

  • headache, particularly in the morning
  • severe or frequent vomiting without other signs of gastrointestinal illness
  • 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 low-grade gliomas

Children and adolescents with glioma are treated at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders 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.

What is the long-term outlook for children with gliomas?

Your child’s prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on a number of different factors, including:

  • type of tumor
  • tumor grade
  • the extent of the disease
  • the size and location of the tumor
  • the presence or absence of metastasis
  • the tumor's response to therapy
  • the age and overall health of your child
  • your child's tolerance of specific medications, procedures or therapies
  • new developments in treatment

In general, low-grade gliomas tend to be readily treatable. Prompt medical attention and appropriate therapy are important for the best prognosis.