Definition

Astrocytoma is type of cancerous brain tumor. This type of tumor begins from small, star-shaped cells in the brain called astrocytes. Astrocytes are one of several types of supporting cells in the brain. These types of cells are called glial cells. An astrocytoma is a type of the larger group of brain tumors called gliomas.

Astrocytoma may occur anywhere in the brain, but particularly the cerebrum in adults and the optic nerves in children.

Brain Tumor
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Causes

The exact cause is unknown. Some possible causes of brain tumors include:

  • Heredity
  • Certain occupations
  • Environmental factors
  • Viruses

Risk Factors

The exact risk factors for astrocytomas have not been identified. Some studies suggest the following risk factors increase your chance of this tumor:

  • Genetic disorders, including neurofibromatosis and tuberous sclerosis
  • Occupational exposure to:
    • Radiation
    • Chemicals
    • Oil refining
    • Rubber manufacturing

Symptoms

The first symptoms of any brain tumor can be caused as the tumor grows. The growth can increase pressure in the brain. Symptoms may include:

  • Headaches
  • Visual changes
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Personality changes
  • Problems with memory, thinking, and concentration
  • Problems with walking

Symptoms will vary depending on the location of the tumor. For example:

  • Frontal lobe—Gradual changes in mood and personality, loss of muscle function on one side of the body
  • Temporal lobe—Problems with coordination, speech, and memory
  • Parietal lobe—Problems with sensation, writing, or fine motor skills
  • Cerebellum—Problems with coordination and balance
  • Occipital lobe—Problems with vision, visual hallucinations

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Your doctor may need to look at pictures of your brain. This can be done through:

You may also have biopsy/resection to remove a sample of brain tissue to test it for cancer cells.

Grading

A specialist will determine the grade of the tumor. Astrocytomas are graded from I to IV. These grades indicate the outlook and rate of tumor growth.

  • Grades I and II—These low-grade astrocytomas grow slowly. They generally stay in an area of the brain. They are more commonly found in younger patients. Grade II astrocytomas can spread.
  • Grades III and IV—These high-grade tumors grow rapidly. They can spread throughout the brain and spinal cord. Aggressive treatment is needed. This is the most common type found in adults. Grade III tumors are called anaplastic astrocytoma. Grade IV tumors are called glioblastoma multiforme or GBM.

Treatment

Treatment is based on the location, size, and grade of the tumor. Treatment may include:

Surgery

Surgery involves the removal of as much of the tumor as possible. High grade tumors are treated with surgery. Surgery is followed by radiation or chemotherapy to help prevent further spread.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy involves the use of radiation to kill cancer cells or shrink the tumor. Radiation may be:

  • External radiation therapy—Radiation aimed at the tumor from a source outside the body
  • Internal radiation therapy, which is also called brachytherapy—Radioactive materials placed into the body near the cancer cells

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given in many forms, including pill, injection, and a tube called a catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream. They travel through the body destroying mostly cancer cells. Some healthy cells are also destroyed.

Prevention

There are no prevention guidelines since the exact cause of astrocytoma is not known.

Revision Information

  • American Brain Tumor Association

    http://www.abta.org

  • American Cancer Society

    http://www.cancer.org

  • Brain Tumor Foundation of Canada

    http://www.braintumour.ca

  • Canadian Cancer Society

    http://www.cancer.ca

  • Astrocytoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 13, 2013. Accessed June 20, 2013.

  • General information about adult brain tumors. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/adultbrain/HealthProfessional. Updated May 14, 2013. Accessed June 20, 2013.