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10

NCCN Guidelines for Patients

®

:

Brain Cancer – Gliomas, Version 1.2016

1

Glioma basics

Glial cells | A disease of cells

You’ve learned that you have or may have

a cancer called a glioma. It’s common to

feel shocked and confused. Part 1 reviews

some basics that may help you learn

about gliomas.

Glial cells

Your central nervous system consists of your brain

and spinal cord. The brain is the command center of

your body. It enables you to breath, move, plan, talk,

and much more. Your spinal cord relays messages

between your brain and body.

Cells are the building blocks of the body. Your brain

and spinal cord are made of more than one type

of cell. Nerve cells (neurons) transmit messages

through chemical and electric signals. Glial cells

surround and support neuron cells. There are many

more glial cells than neurons.

There are four types of glial cells in your central

nervous system. They include astrocytes,

oligodendrocytes, ependymal cells, and microglial

cells.

See Figure 1

.

One job of astrocytes is to maintain the proper

balance of chemicals in the brain. The main job of

oligodendrocytes is to make a fatty membrane called

myelin. Ependymal cells help to make a fluid that’s in

your brain and spine (cerebrospinal fluid). Microglial

cells defend your brain from disease-causing factors.

A disease of cells

Cancer is a disease of cells. Gliomas are cancers

of glial cells. Doctors know a lot about how cancer

cells differ from normal cells. Yet, they are still trying

to learn what causes normal cells to become cancer

cells.

Inside of cells are coded instructions for building

new cells and controlling how cells behave. These

instructions are called genes. Genes are a part

of DNA (

d

eoxyribo

n

ucleic

a

cid), which is grouped

together into bundles called chromosomes.

See

Figure 2

.

There can be abnormal changes in genes called

mutations. Some types of mutations that are linked

to cancer are present in all cells. Other mutations are

present only in cancer cells. Mutations cause cancer

cells to not behave like normal cells and sometimes,

look very different from normal cells.