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Brain and spinal tumours

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Oligodendroglioma

Glioma is a general term for a group of tumours that start in the supportive tissues (glial cells) of the brain or spinal cord. They are the most common type of primary brain tumours in adults and account for about 70% of all malignant (high-grade) tumours of the central nervous system (CNS).

Oligodendroglioma is a rare type of glioma that starts in glial cells called oligodendrocytes (cells that cover and protect nerves).

  • Oligodendrogliomas account for about 3% of all malignant (high-grade) tumours of the central nervous system.
  • Approximately 80% of oligodendrogliomas have a chromosome abnormality.
    • Tumours with a deletion of the “p” arm of chromosome 1 and the “q” arm of chromosome 19 are more responsive to chemotherapy.

Based on the WHO grading system, oligodendrogliomas may be classified as low-grade (grade II) or high-grade (grade III).

The types of treatments given are based on the unique needs of the person with cancer.

Low-grade oligodendrogliomas

Low-grade oligodendrogliomas are grade II tumours that account for approximately 5%–18% of all gliomas.

  • The cells in these low-grade tumours appear only slightly abnormal.
  • Low-grade oligodendroglioma tumours are slow growing.
    • The tumours may be present for many years before they are diagnosed.
    • People with oligodendroglioma may have a long history of seizures.
  • They are most often found in people between the ages of 50 and 60 years.

Treatment of low-grade oligodendrogliomas

The following are treatment options for low-grade oligodendroglioma.

  • active surveillance
    • MRI is commonly used to track low-grade oligodendrogliomas.
  • surgery
    • Surgery may be used to obtain a biopsy sample and confirm a diagnosis.
    • It may be used as the main treatment to remove all of the tumour or as much of the tumour as possible.
    • Surgery may be used to treat recurrent tumours.
  • radiation therapy
    • External beam radiation therapy may be used:
      • if the doctor knows or suspects some tumour remains after surgery (it may be given with or without chemotherapy)
      • as the main treatment if surgery is not an option
      • to treat recurrent tumours if radiation therapy was not given previously
  • chemotherapy
    • Chemotherapy may be used:
      • if the doctor knows or suspects some tumour remains after surgery (it may be given with or without radiation therapy
      • to treat recurrent tumours
    • The most common chemotherapy drug used is temozolomide (Temodal).
    • The most common chemotherapy combination used is PCV – procarbazine hydrochloride (Matulane), lomustine (CeeNU, CCNU) and vincristine (Oncovin).
    • For more detailed information on specific drugs, go to sources of drug information.

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Anaplastic oligodendrogliomas

Anaplastic oligodendrogliomas are high-grade (grade III) tumours.

  • The cells in these tumours look abnormal.
  • Anaplastic oligodendrogliomas usually grow quickly.
  • Tumours may develop in one place or in many places throughout the brain.

Treatment of anaplastic oligodendrogliomas

The following are treatment options for anaplastic oligodendroglioma.

  • surgery
    • If surgery can be done, it is used as the first treatment to remove as much of the tumour as possible.
    • Surgery is followed by radiation therapy, with or without chemotherapy.
  • radiation therapy
    • External beam radiation therapy is used following surgery, with or without chemotherapy.
    • It may also be given as the main treatment, if surgery is not an option.
  • chemotherapy
    • Chemotherapy may be used:
      • with radiation therapy following surgery
      • to treat recurrent anaplastic oligodendroglioma.
    • The most common chemotherapy drug used is temozolomide (Temodal).
    • Combination chemotherapy is usually given to treat anaplastic oligodendroglioma.
      • The most common chemotherapy combination used is PCV – procarbazine hydrochloride, lomustine and vincristine.
    • For more detailed information on specific drugs, go to sources of drug information.

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Supportive therapy

Supportive therapy is used to treat the symptoms caused by oligodendrogliomas. The following types of supportive therapy may be used:

  • anticonvulsants
    • These drugs prevent seizures.
    • They are given to people who have had a previous seizure.
    • The most commonly used anticonvulsant used is phenytoin (Dilantin).
  • corticosteroids
    • These drugs are used to reduce cerebral edema (buildup of fluid in the brain).
    • The most commonly used corticosteroid is dexamethasone (Decadron, Dexasone).

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Clinical trials

People with oligodendroglioma may be offered the opportunity to participate in clinical trials. For more information, go to clinical trials.

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