CNS & pituitary tumors

Gliomas, glioneuronal tumors, and neuronal tumors

Glioma overview

Last author update: 1 March 2012
Last staff update: 15 May 2023 (update in progress)

Copyright: 2002-2023,, Inc.

PubMed Search: Glioma [title] CNS [title]

Eman Abdelzaher, M.D., Ph.D.
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Cite this page: Abdelzaher E. Glioma overview. website. Accessed June 7th, 2023.
Definition / general
  • Most common CNS tumor
  • Includes astrocytoma, ependymoma, glioblastoma, oligodendroglioma and various subtypes / combinations
  • Diagnosis of "glioma" may be used for frozen section but is not a final diagnosis
  • Important to identify oligodendroglial component, due to effectiveness of chemotherapy for these gliomas
  • Presence of thrombosed vessels in tumors may predict postoperative systemic thromboses (J Neurosurg 1998;89:200)
  • The etiology of gliomas is not entirely understood, but a known risk factor is radiation therapy to the cranium, and gliomas in this setting usually arise 5-25 years after exposure
  • Intra-axial: within brain and spinal cord
  • Intramedullary: within spinal cord
  • Extra-axial: not within brain and spinal cord (such as meningioma)
  • Extramedullary: not within spinal cord
  • Supratentorial: above tentorial membrane - cerebrum
  • Infratentorial: below tentorial membrane - cerebellum, brainstem or spinal cord
Clinical features
  • 13K deaths in US annually (2% of cancer deaths)
  • Peaks in childhood, then declines to age 25 years, then increases with age
  • Childhood tumors: 33% in anterior fossa (supratentorial), 67% in posterior fossa (astrocytoma - 26%, medulloblastoma / PNET - 24%, ependymoma - 14%)
  • Adults: metastases are more common than primary brain tumors but are usually not biopsied; of biopsied tumors, 67% arise in anterior fossa (glioma - 33%, meningioma - 13%, metastases - 12%, pituitary adenoma - 5%), 33% in posterior fossa (schwannoma - 8%, misc. - 33%)
  • Most common spinal cord tumors are schwannoma, meningioma and ependymoma
  • Metastasis of primary CNS tumors outside CNS is rare, usually occurs along brain and spinal cord via subarachnoid space or due to surgery related implantation of tumor cells into vessels
  • Benign appearing tumors may still be infiltrative and difficult to resect
  • Tumors may arise from neural stem cells, precursors of neurons and glial cells, recently discovered in mature brain
  • Symptoms: focal deficits, seizures, increased intracranial pressure (due to mass effect, hydrocephalus, cerebral edema), herniation
  • Labeling index / proliferation index: percentage of MIB1+ or PCNA+ nuclei (compared to all nuclei), usually in regions of highest proliferation; useful prognostic indicator (high values associated with poorer prognosis)
  • Benign: does not recur; applies to pilocytic astrocytomas, certain gangliogliomas and ependymomas; may still have poor prognosis due to location that makes it difficult to resect completely
  • Low grade: may recur as high grade and kill patient
  • Gliomatosis cerebri: diffuse and extensive involvement of CNS associated rarely with glioma; MRI and biopsy helpful for diagnosis
Microscopic (histologic) description
  • Biopsies of tumor epicenter have cellularity greater than surrounding brain
  • Biopsies of margin only are difficult to grade; often contain granular calcifications among hypercellular glia
  • Also microcysts and mitotic figures (depending on tumor grade)
  • May have uneven distribution of cellular density that obscures gray white junction or spawns secondary structures of Scherer (subpial and perineuronal neoplastic glia)
Positive stains

  • Oligodendroglioma cells have variable GFAP and are Leu7+ and S100+
  • Xanthoastrocytomas are reticulin+
Negative stains
Differential diagnosis
  • Gliosis: even distribution of cellular density, contracts instead of expanding near hypercellular glia; usually less pleomorphism, no nuclear hyperchromasia, no nuclear cluster formation, no nuclear molding, no mitotic figures, no calcifications
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