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Brain Cancer Health Center

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It is possible that the main title of the report Astrocytoma is not the name you expected.

Disorder Subdivisions

  • grade I astrocytoma
  • grade II astrocytoma
  • grade III astrocytoma
  • grade IV astrocytoma

General Discussion

An astrocytoma is a tumor that arises from the star-shaped cells (astrocytes) that form the supportive tissue of the brain. Other supportive cells of the brain include oligodendrocytes and ependymal cells. Collectively, these cells are known as glial cells and the tissue they form is known as glial tissue. Tumors that arise from the glial tissue, including astrocytomas, are collectively referred to as gliomas.

The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies astrocytomas into four grades depending on how fast they are growing and the likelihood that they will spread (infiltrate) to nearby brain tissue. Noninfiltrating astrocytomas usually grow more slowly than the infiltrating forms. Infiltrating, or diffuse astrocytomas are more common than noninfiltrating astrocytomas. They are generally more common in men and are most common in the cerebral hemispheres of adult patients. In children they occur both in the cerebral hemispheres as well as the brain stem. Tumors from oligodendrocytes (oligodendrodendrogliomas) are also in the category of infiltrating gliomas and can occasionally be difficult to distinguish from astrocytomas. Some infiltrating gliomas are categorized as mixed oligodendroglioma-astrocytoma (oligoastrocytoma).

Grade I astrocytoma is usually a noninfiltrating tumor. The most common type of grade I astrocytoma is pilocytic astrocytoma which is also known as juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma or JPA. This tumor grows slowly but can become very large. Pilocytic astrocytoma occurs most often in the cerebellum, cerebrum, optic nerve pathway and brainstem. This tumor occurs most often in children and teens and accounts for 2% of all brain tumors.

Grade II astrocytoma is also called low-grade astrocytoma or diffuse astrocytoma and is usually an infiltrating tumor. This tumor grows relatively slowly and usually does not have well-defined borders. It occurs most often in adults between the ages of 20 and 40.

Grade III astrocytoma is also called anaplastic (malignant) astrocytoma because this tumor grows more quickly than a grade II astrocytoma. Anaplastic astrocytoma occurs most often in adults between the ages of 30 and 50, and accounts for 4% of all brain tumors.

Grade IV astrocytoma is also called glioblastoma or GBM and is the most aggressive type of nervous system tumor. It is also referred to as glioblastoma multiforme because of its wide variety of appearances under the microscope. Rarely, non-glial tissue elements can exist in a glioblastoma. The most common variant of GBM showing these additional tissue elements is called a mixed glioblastoma-sarcoma, or gliosarcoma. GBM occurs most often in adults between the ages of 50 and 80, is more common in men, and accounts for 23% of all primary brain tumors.


American Brain Tumor Association
8550 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue, Suite 550
Chicago, IL 60631
Tel: (773)577-8750
Fax: (773)577-8738
Tel: (800)886-2282

American Childhood Cancer Organization
10920 Connecticut Ave
Suite A
Kensington, MD 20895
Tel: (301)962-3520
Fax: (301)962-3521
Tel: (800)366-2223

Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center
McLean Hospital
115 Mill Street
Belmont, MA 02178
Tel: (617)855-2400
Fax: (617)855-3199
Tel: (800)272-4622

Children's Brain Tumor Foundation
274 Madison Avenue, Suite 1004
New York, NY 10016
United States
Tel: (212)448-1595
Fax: (212)448-1022
Tel: (866)228-4673

Brain Tumor Foundation for Children, Inc.
6065 Roswell Road Suite 505
Atlanta, GA 30328-4015
Tel: (404)252-4107
Fax: (404)252-4108

Genetic and Rare Diseases (GARD) Information Center
PO Box 8126
Gaithersburg, MD 20898-8126
Tel: (301)251-4925
Fax: (301)251-4911
Tel: (888)205-2311
TDD: (888)205-3223

Madisons Foundation
PO Box 241956
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Tel: (310)264-0826
Fax: (310)264-4766

Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation
302 Ridgefield Court
Asheville, NC 28806
Tel: (828)665-6891
Fax: (828)665-6894
Tel: (800)253-6530

PLGA Foundation
98 Random Farms Drive
Chappaqua, NY 10514

American Society of Clinical Oncology
2318 Mill Road Suite 800
Alexandria, VA 22314
Tel: (571)483-1780
Fax: (571)366-9537
Tel: (888)651-3038

National Brain Tumor Society
124 Watertown Street, Suite 2D
Watertown, MA 02472
Tel: (617)924-9997
Fax: (617)924-9998
Tel: (800) 770-8287

For a Complete Report:

This is an abstract of a report from the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD). A copy of the complete report can be downloaded free from the NORD website for registered users. The complete report contains additional information including symptoms, causes, affected population, related disorders, standard and investigational therapies (if available), and references from medical literature. For a full-text version of this topic, go to and click on Rare Disease Database under "Rare Disease Information".

The information provided in this report is not intended for diagnostic purposes. It is provided for informational purposes only. NORD recommends that affected individuals seek the advice or counsel of their own personal physicians.

It is possible that the title of this topic is not the name you selected. Please check the Synonyms listing to find the alternate name(s) and Disorder Subdivision(s) covered by this report

This disease entry is based upon medical information available through the date at the end of the topic. Since NORD's resources are limited, it is not possible to keep every entry in the Rare Disease Database completely current and accurate. Please check with the agencies listed in the Resources section for the most current information about this disorder.

For additional information and assistance about rare disorders, please contact the National Organization for Rare Disorders at P.O. Box 1968, Danbury, CT 06813-1968; phone (203) 744-0100; web site or email

Last Updated: 3/20/2012
Copyright 1990, 1995, 2005, 2007, 2012 National Organization for Rare Disorders, Inc.

WebMD Medical Reference from the National Organization for Rare Disorders

Last Updated: May 28, 2015
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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