Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Astrocytoma

(Brain Tumor; Glioma)

Definition

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

The most common places are the cerebrum in adults. For children, the most common place is in the optic nerves. But, they can happen anywhere.

Brain Tumor

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Causes ^

Cancer is when cells in the body split without control or order. These cells go on to form a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to harmful growths. These growths attack nearby tissues. They also spread throughout the brain or spinal cord. It is not clear exactly what causes these problems. It’s likely a mix of genes and the environment.

Risk Factors ^

Your chances of an astrocytoma are higher because of:

  • Age—most common in those aged 30-64 years old
  • Radiation—can be from cancer treatment or nuclear fallout
  • Rare inherited diseases such as Li-Fraumeni syndrome, or neurofibromatosis type 1 or type 2
  • Problems with your genes

Symptoms ^

Tumor growth can make pressure in the brain higher. This may lead to:

  • Seizures
  • Headaches
  • Vision problems
  • Personality changes
  • Problems with memory, thinking, and concentration
  • Problems walking

Problems depend on where the tumor is:

  • Frontal lobe—Slow changes in mood and personality, weak muscles on one side of the body
  • Temporal lobe—Problems with coordination, speech, and memory
  • Parietal lobe—Problems with touch, writing, or fine motor skills
  • Cerebellum—Problems with coordination and balance
  • Occipital lobe—Vision problems and hallucinations

Diagnosis ^

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. Your answers and a physical exam may point to an astrocytoma.

You may also have:

Grading

Astrocytomas are graded from 1-4. These grades rate how fast the tumor is growing.

  • Grades 1 and 2—These low grade tumors grow slowly. They tend to stay in a part of the brain. They are more common in younger people. Grade 2 astrocytomas can spread.
  • Grades 3 and 4—These high grade tumors grow fast. They can spread to other parts of the brain and spinal cord. This is the most common type found in adults. Grade 3 tumors are called anaplastic astrocytomas. Grade 4 tumors are called glioblastoma multiforme (GBM).

Treatment ^

The location, size, and grade of the tumor will guide treatment. It may include:

Surgery

Surgery will remove as much of the tumor as possible. High grade tumors are treated with surgery. It’s followed by other treatments. This will help kill any residual cancer cells or keep them from spreading.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. It may be:

  • External—Radiation is aimed at the tumor from a source outside the body.
  • Internal—Radioactive materials are placed into the body near the cancer cells.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may given by mouth, shots, or IV. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel throughout the body.

Prevention ^

There is no way to prevent an astrocytoma since the cause is unknown.

RESOURCES:

American Brain Tumor Association
https://www.abta.org

American Cancer Society
https://www.cancer.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada
https://www.braintumour.ca

Canadian Cancer Society
https://www.cancer.ca

REFERENCES:

Astrocytoma and oligodendroglioma in adults. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116413/Astrocytoma-and-oligodendroglioma-in-adults. Updated July 2, 2018. Accessed July 25, 2018.

Astrocytomas. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/pediatrics/pediatric-cancers/astrocytomas. Updated August 2015. Accessed July 25, 2018.

General information about adult primary central nervous (CNS) tumors. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/brain/hp/adult-brain-treatment-pdq. Updated January 31, 2018. Accessed July 25, 2018.

Oligostrocytoma. American Brain Tumor Association website. Available at: https://www.abta.org/tumor_types/oligoastrocytoma. Accessed July 25, 2018.

Last reviewed June 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 7/25/2018