Astrocytoma

What is an Astrocytoma

Astrocytoma is a type of brain cancer. Astrocytomas are tumors that develop from star-shaped cells called astrocytes.

Astrocytes are a type of brain cells that normally help to provide nutrition, oxygen, and structural support to the brain tissue. Astrocytomas may appear in different parts of the brain and nervous system.

What are the causes?

A tumor is formed when astrocytes grow into a mass of tissue. What makes normal brain cells grow into a mass of tissue is not known.

What increases the risk?

The following factors may make you more likely to develop this condition:

  • Radiation exposure.
  • Genetics.

What are the signs or symptoms?

Symptoms of astrocytoma may depend on the size and location of the tumor. Possible symptoms include:

  • Headache, which may be worse in the morning.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Vision changes.
  • Seizures.
  • Not being able to walk.
  • Weakness or numbness on one side of the body or in an arm or leg.
  • Behavior changes.
  • Problems with memory or thinking.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition is diagnosed based on a medical history and a physical exam. Brain imaging tests will also be done, such as a CT scan or MRI. A sample of the tumor will be taken and studied in a laboratory (biopsy) to confirm the diagnosis.

How is this treated?

Because some types of astrocytomas are very slow growing, treatment is sometimes delayed until symptoms affect daily activities. Regular monitoring is done to track the tumor’s growth and to help your health care provider decide when treatment is appropriate. Astrocytomas that grow more quickly usually require treatment right away. They may even grow back after treatment.

Several kinds of treatment are used for astrocytoma, including:

  • Surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible.
  • High-energy rays (radiation therapy) to help shrink or kill the tumor.
  • Chemotherapy to shrink or kill the tumor. Because normal cells may also be killed, chemotherapy has many side effects.
  • Targeted therapy. This uses substances that injure or kill cancer cells without affecting normal cells.
  • New treatments through a clinical trial.
  • Steroid medicine to decrease brain swelling and improve symptoms.

Follow these instructions at home:

  • Take over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your health care provider.
  • Consider joining a support group.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your health care provider. This is important.

Where to find more information

Contact a health care provider if:

  • Any symptoms come back.
  • You have diarrhea, vomiting, or abdominal pain.
  • You cannot eat or drink what you need.
  • You are more weak or tired than usual.
  • You lose weight without trying.

Get help right away if:

  • You have a seizure.
  • Your diarrhea, vomiting, or abdominal pain does not go away.
  • You have new symptoms, such as vision problems or trouble walking.
  • You have bleeding that does not stop.
  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You have a fever.

Summary

  • Astrocytoma is a type of brain cancer. Astrocytomas are tumors that develop from star-shaped cells called astrocytes. Astrocytomas may appear in different parts of the brain and nervous system.
  • This condition is diagnosed based on a medical history and a physical exam. Brain imaging tests will also be done, such as a CT scan or MRI.
  • A sample of the tumor will be taken and studied in a laboratory (biopsy) to confirm the diagnosis.
  • Treatment may include surgery to remove the tumor as well as radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Astrocytoma, Pediatric

Astrocytoma is a type of abnormal tissue mass (tumor) that can develop in the brain and spinal cord (nervous system). Astrocytomas develop from star-shaped brain cells (astrocytes) that normally help provide nutrition, oxygen, and structural support to brain tissue. They can be cancerous or noncancerous (benign).

Astrocytomas can occur in various parts of the brain and nervous system, including the cerebellum, the cerebrum, the brain stem, and the spinal cord.

What are the causes?

A tumor is formed when astrocytes grow into a mass of tissue. What causes the cells to grow into a mass of tissue is not known.

What increases the risk?

Your child is more likely to develop this condition if he or she:

  • Has been exposed to radiation or is on radiation therapy.
  • Has certain genetic disorders.

What are the signs or symptoms?

Symptoms of astrocytoma may depend on the size and location of the tumor. Possible symptoms include:

  • Headache. This may be worse in the morning, or may go away after vomiting.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Vision, hearing, or speech changes and problems.
  • Seizures.
  • Not being able to walk, or losing balance.
  • Weakness or numbness on one side of the body or in an arm or leg.
  • Mood or personality changes.
  • Problems with memory or thinking.
  • Having more or less energy than normal.
  • Weight loss or weight gain.
  • Increased head size, in infants.

How is this diagnosed?

This condition may be diagnosed based on:

  • A physical exam.
  • Your child’s medical history.
  • A test that measures your child’s muscles, senses, reflexes, and judgment (neurological exam).
  • A vision exam (visual field exam) to measure central and side (peripheral) vision.
  • Imaging tests, such as CT scan or MRI.
  • Removing and testing a tumor sample (biopsy).

How is this treated?

Because some types of astrocytomas are very slow growing, treatment is sometimes delayed until symptoms affect daily activities. Regular monitoring is done to track the tumor’s growth and to help your health care provider decide when treatment is appropriate. Astrocytomas that grow more quickly usually require treatment right away. They may even grow back after treatment. Several kinds of treatment are used for astrocytoma, including:

  • Surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible.
  • High-energy rays (radiation therapy) to help shrink or kill the tumor.
  • Medicines (chemotherapy) to shrink or kill the tumor. Because normal cells may also be killed, chemotherapy has many side effects.
  • Receiving donated stem cells (stem cell transplant) as well as high-dose chemotherapy. Stem cells are cells made by the spongy tissue inside of bones (bone marrow). They develop into other types of cells that the body can use.
  • Targeted therapy. This uses substances that shrink or kill cancer cells without affecting normal cells.
  • New treatments through a clinical trial.
  • Steroid medicine to decrease brain swelling and improve symptoms.

Your child will be closely observed for new or changed symptoms.

Follow these instructions at home:

  • Give your child over-the-counter and prescription medicines only as told by your child’s health care provider.
  • Consider joining a support group for families coping with cancer.
  • Work with your child’s health care provider to manage any side effects that your child experiences during treatment.
  • Keep all follow-up visits as told by your child’s health care provider. This is important.

Contact a health care provider if your child:

  • Has worsening symptoms.
  • Has diarrhea, vomiting, or abdominal pain.
  • Cannot eat or drink without vomiting.
  • Is more weak or tired than usual.
  • Loses weight without trying.

Get help right away if your child:

  • Has a seizure.
  • Has bleeding that does not stop.
  • Has trouble breathing.
  • Has a fever.
  • Who is younger than 3 months has a temperature of 100°F (38°C) or higher.

Summary

  • Astrocytoma is a type of abnormal tissue mass (tumor) that can develop in the brain and spinal cord (nervous system). Astrocytomas can be cancerous or noncancerous (benign).
  • This condition is diagnosed based on a medical history and a physical exam. Brain imaging tests will also be done, such as a CT scan or MRI.
  • A sample of the tumor will be taken and studied in a laboratory (biopsy) to confirm the diagnosis.
  • Treatment may depend on the size and location of the tumor, but surgery is common.
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