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.
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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.
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
- Problems with your genes
Tumor growth can make pressure in the brain higher. This may lead to:
- 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
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:
Imaging tests such as:
—a sample of brain tissue is looked at under a microscope
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).
The location, size, and grade of the tumor will guide treatment. It may include:
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 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.
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.
There is no way to prevent an astrocytoma since the cause is unknown.
Astrocytoma and oligodendroglioma in adults. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116413/Astrocytoma-and-oligodendroglioma-in-adults. Accessed January 29, 2021.
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. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Oligostrocytoma. American Brain Tumor Association website. Available at: https://www.abta.org/tumor_types/oligoastrocytoma. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Last reviewed September 2020 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 1/29/2021