Oligodendrogliomas are primary brain tumours which means they have originated in the brain instead of spreading from elsewhere. They belong to the group of brain tumours known as gliomas as they develop from a type of glial cell known as an oligodendrocyte.

Oligodendrogliomas are the third most common glioma, accounting for 2-5% of all primary brain tumours and 5-18% of gliomas. They are more common in adults, particularly in people aged 40-60.

Labelled diagram of brain cells

Oligodendrocyte cells produce a fatty, protective covering (called myelin) of the nerve cells in the brain, which helps nerve signals to travel along the nerves more quickly.

What causes oligodendrogliomas?

As with most tumours, the cause is not known. This can be a difficult thing to accept and can leave you feeling helpless, but there is nothing you could have done to prevent this from happening.

The Brain Tumour Charity is contributing to the funding of research into a possible cause that is focussed around our genes.

What are the symptoms of an oligodendroglioma?

A person with an oligodendroglioma may display one or more of these symptoms:

  • Seizures
  • Headaches (not alleviated by pain killers and are worse in mornings associated with nausea and vomiting)
  • Mental status change (general changes in brain function)
  • Vertigo or nausea
  • Visual loss (altered vision or visual hallucinations)
  • Muscular weakness and loss of control of bodily movements (weakness down one side of body)
  • Altered sensations (strange smells, hallucinations relating to sense of smell)

Sometimes the symptoms experienced depend on where the brain tumours are located. If they are in the frontal lobe this may cause gradual changes in mood and personality, weakness or numbness in muscles of one side of the body.

If it is located in the temporal lobe, this may cause problems with speech and coordination or it may affect memory.

What are the types of oligodrendroglioma?

Oligodendrogliomas are divided into two grades:

  • Grade 2 (low grade) oligodendrogliomas are very slow growing
  • Grade 3 (high grade) anaplastic oligodendrogliomas are a faster growing and malignant type

The majority of oligodendrogliomas occur in the frontal lobe, and the second most common site affected is the temporal lobe.

Grade 3 oligodendrogliomas are more common in older people aged 60-80, but can affect any age. Oligodendrogliomas are slightly more common in men than in women.

Occasionally oligodendrogliomas contain clear evidence of different glial cells called astrocytes. These tumours which have a mix of cells may be referred to as 'oligoastrocytomas'. However, this diagnosis is discouraged because genetic testing can now determine whether the tumour should be classified as an astrocytoma or an oligodendroglioma.

Oligodendroglioma treatments

The treatment of an oligodendroglioma depends on whether a tumour is grade 2 or grade 3.

Some grade 2 oligodendrogliomas grow very slowly and you may be put on 'watch and wait' which involves close monitoring of your tumour using MRI scans.

Surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy

If the tumour is large or causing symptoms, surgery may be performed to remove as much as possible if it is located in an area where it is safe to remove. If the neurosurgeon manages to remove all of the visible tumour cells, this may be the only treatment you receive and you might then be put on 'watch and wait'. If the tumour appears to have changed or grown, this is when your doctors will consider additional surgery or starting treatment with radiotherapy or chemotherapy. Many patients with a grade 2 oligodendroglioma will remain in remission (i.e. no signs of the tumour growing) for several years after surgery.

Like grade 2, grade 3 oligodendrogliomas are usually first treated with surgery. If the tumour is located in an area where it is safe to remove, the neurosurgeon will attempt to remove as much as possible. Oligodendrogliomas are often 'diffuse' meaning they have threadlike tendrils that extend into parts of the brain making it difficult to remove completely. After surgery patients will often receive a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Effectiveness of treatment

The use of chemotherapy is particularly successful as a treatment when it is administered to patients whose tumours contain a particular gene change called the 1p and 19q chromosomal deletions. People whose tumour cells have this gene change respond well to PCV chemotherapy and detecting this genetic alteration with a test is now essential when evaluating what treatment is used for people with these tumours. Please see our biomarkers page for more information

Read more about the treatment options for oligodendroglioma brain tumours.

Watch and wait

Sometimes no initial treatment is given - learn why and get tips on how to cope.


Learn about the types of surgery you may have and why surgery is not possible for everyone.


Find out how radiotherapy destroys tumour cells whilst causing as little damage as possible to surrounding cells.


Find our how chemotherapy drugs destroy tumour cells by disturbing their growth.

What is the prognosis of an oligodendroglioma?

Prognosis in relation to brain tumours is an average number, given in months or years that a patient is likely to survive for, following diagnosis. While this number can give a general overview of prognosis for oligodendrogliomas, it is important to remember each person's journey is unique and not necessarily represented by an average figure. This statistic does not take into account individual circumstances such as your general health and quality of care provided by their hospital or treatment centre.

Information about prognosis can be difficult to receive – some people do not want to know, whilst others do. There is no wrong or right answer as to whether or when to receive such information. If you would like to find out more information, please visit our prognosis page.

Information and support

Whether you've been diagnosed with a brain tumour, or it's a family member or friend, we are here to help. We offer a wide range of inclusive and accessible information and services for everyone affected by a brain tumour, whether it's low or high grade, adult or child.

Living with a brain tumour

Find information on side-effects, managing finances and caring for someone with a brain tumour.

Get Support

If you need advice or just someone to talk to find out about our phone support lines, local and online support groups.

Navigating the system

Find out about the NHS, social services and other agencies you may come across after being diagnosed.

Page last reviewed: 07/2016
Next review date: 07/2019

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