Oligodendroglioma, Brain Tumor: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment


Oligodendroglioma is a tumor that forms in the brain. These uncommon tumors usually develop in either the frontal or temporal lobes of the brain, but in rare cases, they can form in the spinal cord.

Oligodendrogliomas develop from cells called oligodendrocytes. Oligodendrocytes create a substance that protects nerves in the brain and helps them function.

Oligodendrogliomas can be malignant (cancer) or benign (not cancer). Some of these tumors grow quickly, but many are slower. They may spread to other parts of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). They don’t usually spread outside the central nervous system.

Oligodendrogliomas are primary brain tumors. Primary brain tumors develop in the brain or spinal cord. (Tumors that spread to the brain from another part of the body are called secondary brain tumors.)


How common are oligodendrogliomas?

Oligodendrogliomas are rare. Doctors diagnose them in about 1,200 people in the United States every year. Oligodendrogliomas make up about 4% of all primary brain tumors.

Who is affected by oligodendrogliomas?

Oligodendrogliomas occur more often in adults than in children. They affect more men than women and are most common in men ages 30 to 60.

What are the types of oligodendrogliomas?

Doctors classify oligodendrogliomas into two types based on how fast the tumor grows. The kinds of oligodendrogliomas are:

  • Grade 2 (low grade) oligodendroglioma: These benign tumors grow slowly. They can be present for years before causing symptoms. They are usually confined to nearby tissue only.
  • Grade 3 (high grade) anaplastic oligodendroglioma: These tumors are malignant and can spread quickly to other areas of the central nervous system.

What causes oligodendrogliomas?

Doctors aren’t sure what causes oligodendrogliomas. The tumors begin in cells of the brain called oligodendrocytes. Oligodendrocytes are a type of cell called glial cells.

Glial cells are glue-like cells that surround nerve cells and help them function. When these cells grow uncontrollably, a tumor forms. Oligodendroglioma is a type of tumor called a glioma, named for the type of cell –glial cells– from which it develops.

Doctors suspect that in some cases, a chromosome abnormality may be the cause. Missing chromosomes (parts of your genes) can cause cells to grow into a tumor.

What are the symptoms of oligodendrogliomas?

Signs and symptoms of oligodendrogliomas vary depending on the tumor’s size and location. Some people with oligodendrogliomas have no symptoms. Symptoms may appear when the tumor grows and presses on surrounding nerves.

Symptoms of oligodendroglioma may include:

  • Seizures.
  • Headaches.
  • Weakness on one side of the body.
  • Language difficulty.
  • Behavior and personality changes.
  • Balance and movement problems.
  • Memory problems.

How are oligodendrogliomas diagnosed?

Doctors use several tests to confirm a diagnosis of oligodendroglioma. These tests include:

  • Neurological exam: During a neurological exam, your doctor looks for signs of weakness in the body, or changes in your coordination, hearing, vision, and reflexes. These changes can help your doctor identify the part of your brain that the tumor affects.
  • Imaging tests: CT scans and MRIs help doctors determine the size and location of the tumor.
  • Biopsy: A doctor uses a needle to take a tissue sample from the tumor through a small hole in the skull. A laboratory examines the sample to confirm the diagnosis of oligodendroglioma. The type of tumor, grade and speed of tumor growth can also be determined based on the biopsy.

What are the treatments for oligodendrogliomas?

Treatment for oligodendroglioma depends on the location, size and grade of the tumor. Your treatment options might include:

  • Surgery: When oligodendroglioma develops in an accessible area, surgeons remove the tumor. They work very carefully to remove as much of the tumor as possible without damaging surrounding healthy tissue. In some cases, it is not possible to remove the entire tumor through surgery alone.
  • Radiation therapy: Cancer specialists called radiation oncologists use high doses of X-rays to destroy what remains of the tumor after surgery. People with oligodendroglioma do not usually have radiation before surgery.
  • Chemotherapy: Anti-cancer drugs destroy cancer cells throughout the body. Most chemotherapy is injected into a vein or taken in pill form. Doctors may recommend chemotherapy before or after radiation therapy to kill cancer cells left behind after surgery or radiation.
  • Clinical trials: If all treatments have been tried and failed, you and your healthcare provider may want to look into clinical trials. You may meet entry criteria to join a clinical trial. You can use this site to learn more about treatments being investigated. Visit clinicaltrials.gov.

Oligodendrogliomas can recur. If this happens your doctor will develop another treatment plan of surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy.

What are the complications associated with oligodendrogliomas?

Some people with oligodendrogliomas experience complications as the tumor grows and presses on surrounding nerves and tissue. These complications may include:

  • Coordination and balance problems.
  • Difficulty speaking.
  • Hearing, vision and smelling problems.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Weakness or movement trouble in the arms, legs, or on one side of the body.

How can you prevent oligodendrogliomas?

You cannot prevent oligodendrogliomas. You can reduce your risk for the tumor by limiting your exposure to radiation from X-rays.

Who is at risk of developing oligodendrogliomas?

People at higher risk for oligodendrogliomas include those who:

  • Are older than 45 (although they can occur at any age).
  • Have a family member with a glioma.
  • Were born with a genetic mutation (change) involving missing chromosomes.
  • Have had long-term exposure to radiation from X-rays or treatment for other cancers.

What is the prognosis (outlook) for people with oligodendroglioma?

The prognosis for people with oligodendroglioma varies greatly. Factors that can affect prognosis include the tumor’s location and grade, and your age and health.

Doctors can successfully treat many cases of oligodendroglioma. Sometimes people need more than one surgery to remove the whole tumor and ensure it does not return. Some people live symptom-free, active lives with these tumors.

In some cases, people with oligodendroglioma need to continue treatments, including chemotherapy or radiation, to keep the tumor from growing or spreading. These treatments may continue indefinitely.

After oligodendroglioma treatment, you should follow up with your doctor throughout the rest of your life. Your doctor can monitor you for signs of new tumor growth and treat you right away.

When should I see a healthcare provider about oligodendroglioma?

Contact your healthcare provider if you have frequent, severe headaches or other signs and symptoms of oligodendroglioma.

What questions should I ask my doctor?

If you have an oligodendroglioma, you may want to ask your doctor:

  • Is the tumor cancerous?
  • What type of treatment is best for me?
  • How likely is it that treatment will cure the oligodendroglioma?
  • What should I do to manage the side effects of treatment?
  • How will treatment affect my work and daily life?
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