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Oligodendroglioma

Find out about oligodendroglioma and its treatment. 

What it is

Oligodendroglioma is a rare type of glioma brain tumour. About 3 out of every 100 (3%) brain tumours are oligodendrogliomas. These develop from cells called oligodendrocytes. 

Oligodendrocytes make a fatty white substance that covers nerves, called myelin. It helps the nerve signals (impulses) to travel along the nerves more quickly. 

They are mostly found in the cerebrum, in the temporal or frontal lobes. 

These tumours can be low grade (slow growing) or high grade (fast growing).

They are most likely to be diagnosed in adults, although they do occur in young children. Rarely this tumour can spread within the central nervous system, in the fluid that circulates around the brain and spinal cord. 

Diagnosing oligodendroglioma

Your doctor will examine you and you may have blood tests to check your general health. Other tests include:

  • CT or MRI scan 
  • biopsy

Treatment

Your treatment depends on whether your oligodendroglioma is a slow growing type (low grade or grade 2). Or a faster growing type (grade 3 or an anaplastic tumour)

Low grade oligodendroglioma

Monitoring 

Some slow growing (low grade) tumours might be monitored with regular CT or MRI scans. This is called watchful waiting. The tumour might not change for many months or years. 

Surgery 

You might have surgery if your low grade tumour is large, or is causing symptoms. Your surgeon will try and remove as much of the tumour as possible. Oligodendrogliomas tend to grow into the brain tissue surrounding the main tumour. This makes it very difficult to remove the tumour completely.

Radiotherapy or chemotherapy

After your operation, you might have radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Or your doctor might monitor you and delay treatment until your tumour is causing symptoms. 

You might have chemotherapy (instead of radiotherapy) if you have have a gene change called a 1p19q co-deletion. 

High grade oligodendroglioma

High grade oligodendrogliomas tend to glow brightly (enhance) on a CT or MRI scan. You have an injection of a contrast drug into your bloodstream to show this.  

Surgery

You usually have an operation to remove your tumour. It is not usually possible to remove all of it.

Radiotherapy 

After surgery you usually have radiotherapy. This aims to stop the tumour coming back. You usually have daily treatment from Monday to Friday for about 6 weeks. 

Chemotherapy

Some research has shown that chemotherapy is useful for people who have a particular gene change called a 1p19q co-deletion. The trials found that some people who had chemotherapy before or after radiotherapy lived for longer.

You have chemotherapy as a drip into your bloodstream, or as a chemotherapy tablet called temozolamide. 

If your tumour comes back

Your treatment depends on what treatment you have already had. You might one, or a combination of:

  • surgery
  • chemotherapy
  • radiotherapy

Coping with oligodendroglioma

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

Follow up

You will have regular check ups once you finish your treatment. Your doctor will examine you and ask about your general health.

This is your chance to ask questions and to tell your doctor if anything is worrying you.

How often you have check ups depends on your individual situation.

Research and clinical trials

There may be fewer clinical trials for rare types of cancer than for more common types.

It is hard to organise and run trials for rare cancers. Getting enough patients is critical to the success of a trial. The results won't be strong enough to prove that one type of treatment is better than another if the trial is too small.

The International Rare Cancers Initiative (IRCI) aims to develop more research into new treatments for rare cancers. They are designing trials that involve several countries so that more people will be available to enter trials.

Information and help

Dangoor sponsorship

About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.