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Astrocytoma

(Brain Tumor; Glioma)

Definition

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

Astrocytoma may occur anywhere in the brain, but particularly the cerebrum in adults and the optic nerves in children.

Brain Tumor

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes    TOP

The exact cause is unknown. Some possible causes of brain tumors include:

  • Heredity
  • Certain occupations
  • Environmental factors
  • Viruses

Risk Factors    TOP

The exact risk factors for astrocytomas have not been identified. There is an increased chance with:

  • Genetic disorders, including neurofibromatosis and tuberous sclerosis
  • Occupational exposure from:
    • Radiation
    • Chemicals
    • Oil refining
    • Rubber manufacturing

Symptoms    TOP

The first symptoms of any brain tumor can be caused as the tumor grows. The growth can increase pressure in the brain. Symptoms may include:

  • Headaches
  • Visual changes
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Personality changes
  • Problems with memory, thinking, and concentration
  • Problems with walking

Symptoms will vary depending on the location of the tumor. For example:

  • Frontal lobe—Gradual changes in mood and personality, loss of muscle function on one side of the body
  • Temporal lobe—Problems with coordination, speech, and memory
  • Parietal lobe—Problems with sensation, writing, or fine motor skills
  • Cerebellum—Problems with coordination and balance
  • Occipital lobe—Problems with vision, visual hallucinations

Diagnosis    TOP

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Your doctor may need to look at pictures of your brain. This can be done with:

You may also have biopsy/resection to remove a sample of brain tissue to test it for cancer cells.

Grading

A specialist will determine the grade of the tumor. Astrocytomas are graded from I to IV. These grades indicate the outlook and rate of tumor growth.

  • Grades I and II—These low-grade astrocytomas grow slowly. They generally stay in an area of the brain. They are more commonly found in younger patients. Grade II astrocytomas can spread.
  • Grades III and IV—These high-grade tumors grow rapidly. They can spread throughout the brain and spinal cord. Aggressive treatment is needed. This is the most common type found in adults. Grade III tumors are called anaplastic astrocytoma. Grade IV tumors are called glioblastoma multiforme or GBM.

Treatment    TOP

Treatment is based on the location, size, and grade of the tumor. Treatment may include:

Surgery

Surgery involves the removal of as much of the tumor as possible. High grade tumors are treated with surgery. Surgery is followed by radiation or chemotherapy to help prevent further spreading.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy involves the use of radiation to kill cancer cells or shrink the tumor. Radiation therapy may be:

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

Chemotherapy    TOP

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given in many forms, including pill, injection, and a tube called a catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream. They travel through the body destroying mostly cancer cells. Some healthy cells are also destroyed.

Prevention    TOP

There are no current guidelines to prevent an astrocytoma because the cause is unknown.

RESOURCES:

American Brain Tumor Association
http://www.abta.org
American Cancer Society
http://www.cancer.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Brain Tumor Foundation of Canada
http://www.braintumour.ca
Canadian Cancer Society
http://www.cancer.ca

References:

Astrocytoma. American Brain Tumor Association website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed September 6, 2016.
General information about adult primary central nervous (CNS) tumors. National Cancer Institute website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated January 27, 2016. Accessed September 6, 2016.
Last reviewed May 2016 by Mohei Abouzied, MD
Last Updated: 5/28/2014

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