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Elizabeth B. Claus, Kyle M. Walsh, John K. Wiencke, Annette M. Molinaro, Joseph L. Wiemels, Joellen M. Schildkraut, Melissa L. Bondy, Mitchel Berger, Robert Jenkins and Margaret Wrensch

Significant gaps exist in our understanding of the causes and clinical management of glioma. One of the biggest gaps is how best to manage low-grade (World Health Organization [WHO] Grade II) glioma. Low-grade glioma (LGG) is a uniformly fatal disease of young adults (mean age 41 years), with survival averaging approximately 7 years. Although LGG patients have better survival than patients with high-grade (WHO Grade III or IV) glioma, all LGGs eventually progress to high-grade glioma and death. Data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) program of the National Cancer Institute suggest that for the majority of LGG patients, overall survival has not significantly improved over the past 3 decades, highlighting the need for intensified study of this tumor. Recently published research suggests that historically used clinical variables are not sufficient (and are likely inferior) prognostic and predictive indicators relative to information provided by recently discovered tumor markers (e.g., 1p/19q deletion and IDH1 or IDH2 mutation status), tumor expression profiles (e.g., the proneural profile) and/or constitutive genotype (e.g., rs55705857 on 8q24.21). Discovery of such tumor and constitutive variation may identify variables needed to improve randomization in clinical trials as well as identify patients more sensitive to current treatments and targets for improved treatment in the future. This article reports on survival trends for patients diagnosed with LGG within the United States from 1973 through 2011 and reviews the emerging role of tumor and constitutive genetics in refining risk stratification, defining targeted therapy, and improving survival for this group of relatively young patients.

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Margaret Wrensch, James L. Fisher, Judith A. Schwartzbaum, Melissa Bondy, Mitchel Berger and Kenneth D. Aldape

In this paper the authors highlight recent findings from molecular epidemiology studies of glioma origin and prognosis and suggest promising paths for future research. The reasons for variation in glioma incidence according to time period of diagnosis, sex, age, ancestry and ethnicity, and geography are poorly understood, as are factors that affect prognosis. High-dose therapeutic ionizing irradiation and rare mutations in highly penetrant genes associated with certain rare syndromes—the only two established causes of glioma—can be called upon to explain few cases. Both familial aggregation of gliomas and the inverse association of allergies and immune-related conditions with gliomas have been shown consistently, but the explanations for these associations are inadequately developed or unknown. Several bio-markers do predict prognosis, but only evaluation of loss of 1p and 19q in oligodendroglial tumors are incorporated in clinical practice. Ongoing research focuses on classifying homogeneous groups of tumors on the basis of molecular markers and identifying inherited polymorphisms that may influence survival or risk. Because most cases of glioma have yet to furnish either an environmental or a genetic explanation, the greatest potential for discovery may lie in genomic studies in conjunction with continued evaluation of environmental and developmental factors. Large sample sizes and multidisciplinary teams with expertise in neuropathology, genetics, epidemiology, functional genomics, bioinformatics, biostatistics, immunology, and neurooncology are required for these studies to permit exploration of potentially relevant pathways and modifying effects of other genes or exposures, and to avoid false-positive findings. Improving survival rates for patients harboring astrocytic tumors will probably require many randomized clinical trials of novel treatment strategies.