What is Astrocytoma?
Astrocytoma is a form of a brain cancer which originates in a star shaped brain cells in the cerebrum called astrocytes. Astrocytomas are normally confined to the brain and spinal cord and do not spread outside of the area and do not adversely affect other vital structures of the body. There are different types of Astrocytomas and they are graded from I to IV. This grading is done depending on the abnormality of the affected cells. Normally, Astrocytomas are low grade and high grade. Low Grade Astrocytomas are localized and grow slowly while High Grade Astrocytomas grow very quickly. The approach of treatment of high grade Astrocytoma is different from that of low grade Astrocytoma. Low Grade Astrocytomas are normally found in children whereas High Grade Astrocytomas are found in adults.
What are the Classifications of Astrocytoma?
Astrocytomas are graded in the following manner:
Pilocytic Astrocytoma or Grade I Astrocytoma: These types of tumors are localized and stay at the place where they originate and do not spread. They are also known by the name of Juvenile Pilocytic Astrocytoma. These types of tumors are usually benign.
Diffuse Astrocytoma or Grade II Astrocytoma: These types of tumors tend to invade the surrounding territory and invade the tissues surrounding the tumor but they grow at a relatively slow pace.
Anaplastic Astrocytoma or Grade III Astrocytoma: These tumors grow at a fairly rapid pace and require more aggressive treatment. These tumors are pretty rare.
Glioblastoma or Grade IV Astrocytoma: This type of Astrocytoma was previously known as Glioblastoma Multiforme and is perhaps the most dangerous of all the types of Astrocytoma. The tumors of this type of Astrocytoma grow very rapidly and invade quickly in the surrounding tissues and damage them.
What are the Causes of Astrocytoma?
When it comes to causes, as is the case with most tumors there is no definite cause for their development. The low grade Astrocytoma develops in children whereas high grade Astrocytoma develops in adults.
What are the Symptoms of Astrocytoma?
Some of the common symptoms of Astrocytoma are:
- Persistent headaches is one of the symptoms of astrocytoma
- Alteration in memory can also be a symptom of astrocytoma
- Behavioral changes
- In some cases of astrocytoma, vision changes may also occur.
How is Astrocytoma Diagnosed?
The confirmative way of diagnosing Astrocytoma is by imaging studies. If an individual presents with persistent symptoms as mentioned above then the treating physician may order an MRI of the brain to look at the internal structures of the brain. The MRI can give significant evidence as to the presence and location of Astrocytoma. A CT scan of the brain can also be done but it will be much less accurate than the MRI scan. Once a mass is identified in the brain by imaging studies then the next step towards diagnosis is to conduct a biopsy of the lesion. Once biopsy has been conducted and Astrocytoma has been confirmed then the grading of the tumor is done. The grading is important as it allows the physician to formulate a treatment plan and also have an idea about the prognosis of the patient.
How is Astrocytoma Treated?
The treatment of Astrocytoma depends on the type, size, and location of the tumor and also whether it has spread to the surrounding areas or not. The patient's overall health is also a factor in determining what treatment strategies are formulated in treatment of Astrocytoma. Some of the treatment options for the various types of Astrocytomas are:
Treatment for Pilocytic or Grade I Astrocytoma: Surgery is done to remove these tumors as these tumors are usually benign and do not spread to other areas of the brain. In case if the tumor is in a location where it cannot be completely excised then radiation therapy may ensue following the surgery. Postsurgery, the patient is closely followed for recurrence of tumor.
Treatment for Diffuse or Grade II Astrocytoma: Again surgery is the treatment option for treating this type of tumor. For this, regular scans will have to be taken to see as to how much the tumor has grown and how much has it spread. Once the tumor has been completely removed then regular followup scans are required looking for any recurrence Astrocytoma. In case if the tumor cannot be completely removed due to it being difficult to access then again radiation therapy and close observation with serial scans is required.
Treatment for Anaplastic of Grade III Astrocytoma: Surgery is first done to remove the tumor in its entirety even though it is quite difficult to do so because of its location and size. The remainder of the tumor is then treated with radiation therapy. In case of recurrence of tumors, then chemotherapy may be done for treatment of this type of Astrocytoma.
Treatment for Glioblastoma or Grade IV Astrocytoma: Surgery is done to remove as much tumor as possible. This is then followed by radiation therapy and then chemotherapy to treat the remainder of the tumor or in cases of recurrence.
What is the Prognosis and Life Expectancy of Astrocytoma?
People with Grade I Astrocytoma have a relatively good prognosis with surgery as the tumor is fairly localized and benign and tend to live their normal life span. Life expectancy for people with Grade II Astrocytoma after surgery and radiation is around 5 years with the number of years decreasing as the grading of Astrocytoma increases. The life expectancy is approximately two to three years for individuals with Type IV Astrocytoma.