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About Mixed Gliomas

Mixed gliomas are tumors made up of more than one type of glial cell—support cells in the brain and spinal cord. At Columbia University Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, we specialize in diagnosing and surgically treating mixed gliomas. For more information on the treatment of mixed gliomas, see our page on brain tumor surgery.

Most brain tumors are named after the cells from which they develop. A brain tumor derived from glial cells is known as a glioma. There are several types of gliomas, including astrocytomas, oligodendrogliomas and ependymomas. Each derives from a single type of glial cell:

  • Astrocytes—Star-shaped cells that execute several tasks to keep the brain and spinal cord functioning.
  • Oligodendrocytes—Cells resembling fried eggs that form protective layering around nerve cells.
  • Ependymocytes, or ependymal cells—Cells that line the ventricles in the brain and spinal cord.

A mixed glioma contains more than one of these cell types. Most often, a mixed glioma is a blend of oligodendrocytes and astrocytes. This type of mixed glioma is called an oligoastrocytoma. Sometimes, a mixed glioma includes ependymal cells. Mixed gliomas are rare, making up 1 percent of brain tumors and about 5 to 10 percent of gliomas.

Like other brain tumors, mixed gliomas are assigned a grade between one and four on the basis of how quickly they grow and how likely they are to spread to other areas. Mixed gliomas can be either Grade II or Grade III. Grade II indicates slow growth and low likelihood of spreading; these are commonly called low-grade or oligoastrocytomas. Grade III indicates a faster growing, malignant tumor that could spread. Grade III tumors are commonly called high-grade or anaplastic oligoastrocytomas.

Mixed gliomas tend to take on the characteristics of the glioma type that is most abundant in the tumor. If the tumor is mostly composed of the slow-growing oligodendroglioma, then it tends to grow slowly. If astrocytoma cells form the majority, then the tumor grows more quickly and aggressively, requiring more intense treatment.

Because glial cells are widely distributed throughout the brain and spinal cord, these tumors can arise in a variety of locations. The most common site for a mixed glioma to grow is the cerebrum, the large area of the brain responsible for reasoning, movement and visual processing. A mixed glioma can spread to other parts of the brain.

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