Astrocytoma is a malignant, or cancerous, type of brain tumor. This type of tumor arises from small, star-shaped cells in the brain called astrocytes. Astrocytes are one of several types of supporting cells in the brain called glial cells. Therefore, an astrocytoma is a subtype of the larger group of brain tumors called gliomas.
Astrocytoma is the most common form of glioma and may occur anywhere in the brain. However, it is most commonly found in the cerebrum in adults, and in the cerebellum, brainstem, and optic nerves in children.
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When an astrocytoma is diagnosed, the most important factors are:
These factors will determine the symptoms, prognosis, and treatment.
The exact cause of astrocytoma is unknown. Some possible causes of brain tumors include:
A risk factor is something that increases your chances of getting a disease or condition. Although the exact risk factors for astrocytomas have not been identified, some studies implicate the following:
The first symptoms of astrocytoma, or any brain tumor, can be caused by increased pressure in the brain as the tumor grows. Symptoms may include:
Symptoms will vary, depending on the location of the astrocytoma. For example:
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam. Tests may include:
Once the test results are confirmed, the pathologist will determine the grade of the tumor. Astrocytomas are graded from I to IV. These grades indicate the prognosis and rate of tumor growth.
Treatment is based on the location, size, and grade of the tumor. Treatment may include:
Surgery involves the removal of as much of the tumor as safely possible. If the tumor is high grade, surgery will typically be followed by radiation or chemotherapy to help prevent further spread.
Radiation therapy involves the use of radiation to kill cancer cells or shrink the tumor. Radiation may be:
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. This treatment may be given in many forms, including pill or intravenously (by IV or port). The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells, but also some healthy cells.
There are no guidelines for preventing astrocytoma because the exact cause is not known. It has been suggested that the electromagnetic waves emitted from high-tension wires or even cell phone may increase the risk of developing brain tumors, but, to date, there is no scientific evidence supporting this theory.
Last reviewed November 2007 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.