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

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 young adults. High grade tumours (grade 3 and grade 4) are more common in older adults. 

Grade 4 astrocytomas are also called glioblastoma or glioblastoma multiforme (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 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.

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 surgery to remove part of the tumour. After surgery, you might have radiotherapy and chemotherapy, or chemotherapy on its own.

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.

This page is due for review. We will update this as soon as possible.

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Last reviewed: 
30 Oct 2019

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