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Gliomas are brain tumours that start in glial cells. These are the supporting cells of the brain and the spinal cord. There are different types of gliomas. The most common type is called astrocytoma.

There are 3 types of glial cells:

  • astrocytes – tumours that start in these cells are called astrocytoma or glioblastoma
  • oligodendrocytes – tumours that start in these cells are called oligodendrogliomas
  • ependymal cells – tumours that start in these cells are called ependymomas

Astrocytoma or glioblastoma multiforme (GBM)

Astrocytomas are the most common type of glioma in both adults and children.

Astrocytomas can be low grade (slow growing) or high grade (fast growing). Low grade astrocytomas (grade 1 and grade 2) are more common in children. And high grade tumours (grade 3 and grade 4) are more common in adults.

Grade 4 astrocytomas are also called glioblastoma multiform (GBM).


Oligodendroglioma is a rare type of brain tumour. They are more common in adults but can also start in young children.


Ependymomas are rare brain tumours. They can start in any part of the brain or the spinal cord.

Ependymomas are more common in children and young adults but can also happen in older people. In older people, ependymomas tend to start in the lower part of the spinal cord.

Unspecified gliomas

Unspecified glioma means that the tumour has started in glial cells. But your doctor can’t tell exactly the tumour grade or the type of glial cell it started from. Sometimes this happens because it was only safe to take a small sample of tissue (biopsy). You may have more tests to find out exactly the type of glioma you have.

If doctors can’t find the exact type, they look at the scans and information about your symptoms. Using this information, they work out how the tumour is likely to behave and the best treatment for you.

Brain stem glioma

Glioma in the brain stem is very rare. The brain stem is the lowest part of the brain, that connects with the spinal cord. It controls body functions that we don’t usually think about such as breathing.

Brain stem gliomas are more common in children than in adults. For some children, they grow rapidly and spread to other parts of the brain. Brain stem gliomas in children are also called diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma.

For a brain stem glioma, you usually have treatment with radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Coping with glioma

Coping with a diagnosis of a brain tumour can be difficult, both practically and emotionally. It can be especially difficult when you have a rare tumour. Being well informed about the type of tumour you have, and its treatment can make it easier to cope.

Last reviewed: 
27 Aug 2019
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