Cerebral astrocytoma is a type of malignant glioma.
Childhood cerebral astrocytoma is a disease in which benign (noncancer) or malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the brain.
Astrocytomas are tumors that start in brain cells called astrocytes. Cerebral astrocytomas form in the area of the brain called the cerebrum. The cerebrum, which is at the top of the head, is the largest part of the brain. The cerebrum controls thinking, learning, problem-solving, speech, emotions, reading, writing, and voluntary movement.
Although cancer is rare in children, brain tumors are the most common type of childhood cancer other than leukemia and lymphoma.
This summary refers to the treatment of primary brain tumors (tumors that begin in the brain). Treatment for metastatic brain tumors, which are tumors formed by cancer cells that begin in other parts of the body and spread to the brain, is not discussed in this summary. Brain tumors can occur in both children and adults; however, treatment for children may be different than treatment for adults. See the following PDQ treatment summaries for more information:
- Childhood Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors Treatment Overview
- Adult Brain Tumors
The cause of most childhood brain tumors is unknown.
The symptoms of childhood cerebral astrocytoma vary and often depend on the child's age, where the tumor is located, and the size of the tumor.
The following symptoms and others may be caused by an astrocytoma. Other conditions may cause the same symptoms. A doctor should be consulted if any of these problems occur:
- Weakness or change in feeling on one side of the body.
- Morning headache or headache that goes away after vomiting.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Unusual sleepiness or change in energy level.
- Change in personality or behavior.
Tests that examine the brain are used to detect (find) childhood cerebral astrocytoma.
The following tests and procedures may be used:
- CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) with gadolinium: A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the brain and spinal cord. A substance called gadolinium is injected through a vein. The gadolinium collects around the cancer cells so they show up brighter in the picture. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).
Childhood cerebral astrocytoma is diagnosed, and sometimes removed, in surgery.