Oligodendrogliomas are tumors that develop from a certain type of cell called oligodendroglial progenitor cells. These are the precursors to cells called oligodendrocytes, which wrap around nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord to form insulation. At Columbia University Medical Center/NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, we specialize in diagnosing and surgically treating oligodendrogliomas. Standard treatment options include careful monitoring, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgical removal.
Oligodendrogliomas can develop anywhere in the cerebrum, the largest part of the brain. The cerebrum extends from the top of the head almost to the neck and occupies the majority of the space in the skull. Most often, oligodendrogliomas develop in the cerebrum’s frontal or temporal lobes. The frontal lobe, located behind the forehead, coordinates tasks like voluntary movement, speech and reasoning. The temporal lobe is located at the sides of the brain, above the ears, and is responsible for hearing and memory, among other tasks.
On scale of one to four, the World Health Organization grades tumors according to growth speed and ability to spread to nearby tissues. Depending on this grade, oligodendrogliomas are labeled either low- or high-grade.
Most oligodendrogliomas are low-grade, slow-growing tumors, so they may be present for several years before being diagnosed. However, a low-grade tumor can progress and become high-grade if untreated.
Oligodendrogliomas are not common tumors, making up only about 4 percent of tumors that arise from brain cells, and they rarely occur in the spinal cord. They belong to a group of tumors known as gliomas and comprise about 5 to 19 percent of all gliomas. This percentage has been increasing, likely because diagnostic methods have improved.
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