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Any diagnosis of a brain tumor can be daunting. With an astrocytoma brain tumor, there are several levels of severity, and some are noncancerous and easily treated. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with astrocytoma, read on about astrocytoma symptoms, and learn how our team can help.

What is an astrocytoma?

Astrocytoma is a type of tumor that originates from astrocytes, which are star-shaped glial cells that make up a large part of the central nervous system of our bodies. Astrocytoma tumors are mostly found in the brain but can also develop on the spinal cord. An astrocytoma brain tumor can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous), and it may occur at any age.  

Astrocytoma is the most common form of glioma, a tumor that forms when glial cells grow uncontrollably. Doctors describe astrocytoma with a grading system, as opposed to a stage system, which is commonly used in other cancers or conditions.  

Symptoms of astrocytoma

Astrocytoma symptoms depend on its location in the brain and its size. Common symptoms include:

  • Headaches
  • Seizures
  • Speech problems
  • Blurred vision
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Movement issues such as limb weakness

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible.

What are the types of astrocytoma?

Astrocytomas are categorized depending on the grade of their malignancy.  

Grade I astrocytoma is noncancerous and can be broken into three categories: 

  • Pilocytic astrocytoma: This is the most common grade I astrocytoma and typically develops in your cerebellum. It’s slow-growing and usually doesn’t spread. Because pilocytic astrocytoma is noncancerous, it does not require any post-surgical treatment such as chemotherapy or radiation.  
  • Pleomorphic xanthoastrocytoma: This tumor usually develops in your temporal lobes. It’s slow-growing and isn’t known to spread. These tumors commonly cause seizures but are cured with surgery.
  • Subependymal giant cell astrocytoma (SEGA): This type of astrocytoma is usually found in children who have a genetic condition known as tuberous sclerosis. It grows in the fluid-filled spaces of the brain called ventricles. Surgery generally resolves the issue.  

Grade II astrocytoma is also known as diffuse astrocytoma. These tumors grow more aggressively than grade I tumors and are considered to be invasive, since there is no clear separation between the tumor and surrounding tissue. Due to this entanglement, surgery may not be a sufficient treatment. 

Grade III astrocytoma is known as anaplastic astrocytoma. These are more aggressive and invasive than grade II. These cannot be cured with surgery alone. They require radiation and commonly chemotherapy.  

Grade IV astrocytoma is the most aggressive form of the tumor, often called glioblastoma (GBM). These tumors grow and spread rapidly within the brain. They can form from a lower grade astrocytoma, but in about 90% of cases, they originate as a grade IV.  

Who is affected by astrocytoma?

Astrocytoma can affect people of all ages, but different grades usually affect specific age groups. Grade I astrocytoma is the most common type among children and adolescents. Grade II tumors are mainly found in adults between the ages of 20-60. Grade III tumors usually affect people between 30-60. And grade IV tumors are found in older adults ages 50-80. Grade III and IV astrocytomas are rarer, but they are more likely to affect men than women. 

Diagnosing astrocytoma

Astrocytoma is typically diagnosed through imaging tests, such as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scan. These scans use powerful magnets and X-rays to capture detailed images of the brain. They may also be used in combination with other tests, such as an electroencephalogram (EEG), which is a test that measures electrical activity in the brain, or a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis if a brain image finds an abnormality.  

Causes of astrocytoma

The exact cause of astrocytoma is unknown, but it is believed to develop due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Scientists have identified that a mutation in the IDH1 gene can increase the risk of developing a low-grade astrocytoma. Exposure to ionizing radiation such as radiation therapy may also increase the risk of developing astrocytoma.   

Treatment for astrocytoma

The treatment for an astrocytoma brain tumor depends on the size, location, and grade of the tumor. Surgery is often the first line of treatment for astrocytoma, as it can help to reduce symptoms by removing pressure from affected areas in the brain. Depending on the size and location of the tumor, minimally invasive surgery may be used. At Endeavor Health Neurosciences Institute’s Advanced Neurosciences Center, we have innovative and highly advanced, minimally invasive surgical techniques for the treatment of astrocytoma brain tumors. 

If you have a grade III or IV tumor, radiation therapy or chemotherapy may also be recommended to target and shrink the tumor.   

What to do after an astrocytoma diagnosis

At the Advanced Neurosciences Center, we understand that each patient is unique and requires specialized care. Our team of experts will work with you to create a customized treatment plan with you that is tailored to your specific situation. If you need to determine next steps after a diagnosis or want a second opinion based on your test results, we can help. From diagnosis to treatment and beyond, we’ve got you.  

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