What is an oligodendroglioma?

An oligodendroglioma is a type of brain tumor that arises from oligodendrocytes, cells that are part of the supportive tissue of the brain. These tumors are most often seen in the brain, and the average age of patients at diagnosis is 35 years. The prognosis for patients with this cancer varies, depending on the type of cancer the patient has and when the diagnosis occurs. Life expectancy with oligodendroglioma can range from three to 10 years, and of course there are patients who are atypical, defying expectations.

Patients with this type of cancer experience symptoms such as seizures, difficulty balancing, and nausea. On a medical imaging study, such as an MRI or CT scan, the cancer can be seen in the brain and may have small spots as a result of calcium deposits that can form within an oligodendroglioma. Low-grade tumors, also known as grade I tumors, tend to have very clear margins and are slow growing. High-grade tumors, known as anaplastic oligodendrogliomas or grade II tumors, grow faster and more aggressively.

There are several treatment options for oligodendroglioma. Surgery to remove the tumor is often recommended, especially if the margins appear clear, which would allow complete removal of the cancerous tissue. Radiation and chemotherapy may also be used to shrink the tumor. Patients experiencing neurological impairment may also find physical therapy sessions beneficial.

When a patient is diagnosed with oligodendroglioma, a neurologist may want to perform a comprehensive exam to determine whether or not the cancer has damaged key areas of the brain and to establish a baseline that can be referenced during treatment. Patients often experience ups and downs during treatment as their neurological function changes, and it can be helpful to know where the patient was at the beginning.

A patient diagnosed with anaplastic oligodendroglioma has a life expectancy that is generally less than eight years and may be less than three years. The slowest growing grade I tumors have a life expectancy of about 10 years. Physicians can provide more specific information on individual cases, based on the patient's general health, age, and many other factors that can impact life expectancy. Studies also seem to suggest that a patient's attitude can sometimes have an impact on prognosis; Patients who are willing to fight may live longer, although this is not always the case.

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