An astrocytoma is a type of malignant (cancerous, life-threatening) tumor of the brain. It develops from star-shaped cells in the brain called astrocytes.
Astrocytomas are broadly classified into low-grade and high-grade astrocytomas depending on the nature of their growth and location. Low-grade astrocytomas are non-spreading with slow growth whereas the higher grades spread very quickly owing to their faster growth.
- Grade 1 astrocytoma: Slow growing, non-infiltrating tumor common in children and teens
- Grade 2 astrocytoma: Slow growing, infiltrating tumor lacking well-defined borders and seen in adults between the ages 20 and 40
- Grade 3 astrocytoma: Relatively quick growing and malignant astrocytoma occurring in adults in the 30-50 age groups.
- Grade 4 astrocytoma: Most common and aggressive form of all the grades seen in adults in the 50-80 age groups.
Symptoms vary depending on the location of the brain tumor and may include persistent headaches, double or blurred vision, vomiting, loss of appetite, difficulty in walking, seizures, gradual changes in mood or personality, and memory loss.
A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing a disease or condition. Surprisingly, some people who are exposed to several risk factors never develop a tumor, while others with not even a single risk factor do. Some of the risk factors for Astrocytoma include radiation to the head, heredity, and HIV infection.
The underlying cause of the condition is not known. Some of the possible causes include heredity, environmental factors and occupations involving exposure to radiation.
Your doctor may conduct a thorough physical examination and review your medical history. In addition, various tests such as analysis of blood, and liver function tests may be ordered. The doctor may also require you to get a CT scan or MRI of the brain. If the scan reports indicate presence of a tumor, you would be referred to a neuro-oncologist (one who specializes in tumors of the brain). The neuro-oncologist orders a biopsy (taking out a small sample of the tumor mass) to confirm the presence of cancer.
There are various treatment choices available such as surgery, radiation, radiosurgery, and chemotherapy. The treatment method adopted depends on the overall health of the patient and the relative spread of the tumor. The aim is to eliminate or cause maximum damage to the tumor cells without affecting the normal functioning of the brain.