Monday, January 26, 2015

Optic Gliomas

Optic gliomas are another complication that is commonly seen in people living with NF, so here is some information for you all!

There are multiple different kinds of tissue that make up the brain, and an example of a type of tissue that can commonly cause tumors is glial tissue. Glial tissue makes 3 different type of cells which can cause different types of tumors:
  • Astrocyte cells, which can cause astrocytomas 
  • Oligodendrocyte cells, which can cause oligodendrogliomas 
  • Ependymal cells, which can cause ependymomas 
Now, there are also multiple different types of gliomas, but this blog is going to focus on optic nerve gliomas to keep it simple!

An optic nerve glioma is a type of tumor that can grow in various parts of the brain (not just on the optic nerves). In the general population, optic nerve gliomas make up approximately 5% of all childhood tumors and in the NF population, approximately 14-40% of people have this type of tumor. Generally, optic nerve gliomas are discovered before the age of 20, and luckily they tend to be slow growing and noncancerous. In fact, a large number of people are asymptomatic and therefore it is extremely important that people under the age of 20 see an ophthalmologist yearly.  

Optic nerve gliomas can affect one or both eyes, and only cause blindness in 5% of cases. Due to the location of where some of these tumors grow, they can also cause hormonal imbalances and issues. 

Typical signs and symptoms include but are not limited to:

1. Involuntary eye movement
2. Outward bulging of one or both eyes
3. Squinting 
4. Problems with balance
5. Headaches 
6. Nausea and Vomiting 
7. Hormonal Imbalances or early puberty 

In order to be diagnosed with an optic glioma, yours or your child's physician may order some of the following tests:
  • Cerebral angiogram (a test that uses a special dye and x-rays to see how blood flows through the brain)
  • Biopsy of a tumor that is removed during surgery 
  • CT scan or MRI scan of the brain 
  • Visual field tests (kind of like the ones you get at the eye doctors)
Treatment depends on the size of the tumor and the location of the tumor. Sometimes the tumor can be removed by surgery, but sometimes methods such as chemotherapy and radiation are necessary to treat optic nerve gliomas that are particularly aggressive or inoperable due to their location in the brain.

I was diagnosed with an astrocytoma when I was 13, which at the time was deemed inoperable due to its location. My tumor is right near the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, which is essentially right in the middle of my brain. At first we were unsure how long the tumor had been there, if it was growing.... so on and so forth so we had to play the "wait and see game". Luckily however, my tumor over time as shrunk to almost half it's normal size. This apparently, is very common for optic gliomas (for them to shrink and even disappear).

Thanks for reading!


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