Disease Information

Brain Tumor: Astrocytoma / Glioma

Alternate Names: Anaplastic astrocytoma; glioblastoma multiforme; juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma (JPA); fibrillary astrocytoma; pleomorphic xantroastrocytoma (PXA); desembryoplastic neuroepithelial tumor (DNET)

Definition

Astrocytomas are tumors that arise from brain cells called astrocytes. Gliomas originate from glial cells, most often astrocytes. Sometimes the terms “astrocytoma” and “glioma” are used interchangeably. Here, we use “astrocytoma” to refer to these tumors as a group.

Astrocytomas are of two main types—high-grade and low-grade. High-grade tumors grow rapidly and can easily spread through the brain. Low-grade astrocytomas are usually localized and grow slowly over a long period of time. High-grade tumors are much more aggressive and require very intensive therapy. The majority of astrocytic tumors in children are low-grade, whereas the majority in adults are high-grade. These tumors can occur anywhere in the brain and spinal cord.

Common sites in children are the cerebellum (the area just above the back of the neck), cerebral hemispheres (the top part of the brain), and the thalamus or hypothalamus (located in the center of the brain).

Some of the more common low-grade astrocytomas are:

The two most common high-grade astrocytomas are:


Incidence

Astrocytomas account for the majority of pediatric brain tumors. About 700 children are diagnosed with low-grade astrocytomas each year. In children, more than 80 percent of astrocytomas are low-grade; nearly 20 percent are high-grade.


Clinical Features and Symptoms

Clinical features and symptoms depend on the location of the tumor and the child’s age. The most common location is in the cerebellum. Patients with cerebellar tumors have symptoms that include headache, vomiting, and unsteadiness in walking. Tumors in the cerebral hemispheres commonly cause seizures; occasionally there is weakness of the arms and legs. Tumors in the hypothalamus often cause visual problems, while thalamic tumors cause headaches and arm or leg weakness.


Treatment Strategies


Current Research

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