What Is Astrocytoma?

 

Astrocytoma is the most common a type of glioma tumor that  can develop in the brain and spinal cord. It’s more common in men than women and most often shows up after age 45. There are several types of astrocytoma, and some grow faster than others.

They get their name from astrocytes, the star-shaped cells where they form in the brain. About 50% of primary brain tumors are astrocytomas.

Read on to learn more about symptoms, types, and treatments.

Symptoms

As the astrocytoma grows and presses against the brain, it can cause symptoms. They depend partly on where and how big your tumor is. Early symptoms include:

 

Grades and Types

Like other tumors, astrocytomas are graded on a scale of I to IV, based on how abnormal the cells look and how fast they grow. Grade IV tumors are the most aggressive in their growth. Most astrocytomas in adults are high grade. This means the cells look abnormal and grow quickly.

There are several types of astrocytoma:

  • Anaplastic astrocytomas are rare. They are grade III tumors that grow quickly and spread to nearby tissue. They are hard to remove completely because of their tentacle-like fingers, which grow into nearby brain tissue.
  • Glioblastomas are also called grade IV astrocytomas. Over 50% of astrocytomas are glioblastomas. They grow very quickly and are hard to treat because they are often a mix of different cancer cell types.
  • Diffuse astrocytomas can grow into nearby tissue, but they grow slowly. They are considered low-grade (grade II), but they can develop into higher-grade tumors.
  • Pineal astrocytic tumors can be any grade. They form around the pineal gland. This tiny organ in the cerebrum makes melatonin, which helps control sleep and waking.
  • Brain stem gliomas are rare in adults. It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes gliomas can form in the brain stem, the part that connects to the spinal cord.
  • Pilocytic astrocytomas and subependymal gialt cell astrocytomas are more common in children and considered grade I.

 

Continued

Treatments

You and your doctor will make a treatment plan based on the type of astrocytoma you have, where it is, how fast it's growing, and your symptoms.

  • Surgery to remove all of a tumor -- or as much as possible -- is a likely first step. The exception is gliomas in  areas where surgery can be too risky. Surgery may be enough to cure grade 1 tumors. Surgery usually doesn’t remove all of a higher-grade tumor.
  • Radiation often follows in case parts of a tumor could not be removed or surgeons can’t be sure they got all of the cancer.
  • Chemotherapy is often used for glioblastoma and anaplastic astrocytoma. It can be used before or after radiation. In some cases, chemotherapy wafers may be implanted during surgery.
  • Targeted therapy is a newer type of treatment that may be used to help shrink tumors. This works differently from chemotherapy in that it targets certain proteins that help tumors grow.
  • Electric-field therapy uses electrical fields to target cells in the tumor while not hurting normal cells. It's done by putting electrodes directly on the scalp. The device is called Optune. It's given with chemotherapy after surgery and radiation. The FDA has approved it for both newly diagnosed people and people whose glioblastoma has come back.

 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on January 17, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

American Brain Tumor Association: "Astrocytoma" and "Brain Tumor Primer."

Cedars-Sinai: "Astrocytoma Brain Tumors."

National Cancer Institute: "Tumor Grades and Types" and "General Information About Adult Brain Tumors."

University of Pittsburgh Neurological Surgery: "Types of Brain Tumors."

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: “FDA approves expanded indication for medical device to treat a form of brain cancer,” Oct. 8, 2015.

American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS): "Astrocytoma Tumors."

American Cancer Society: "Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Adults" and Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors in Children."

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