Astrocytoma’s are tumors that arise from astrocytes—star-shaped cells that make up the “glue-like” or supportive tissue of the brain. These tumors are “graded” on a scale from I to IV based on how normal or abnormal the cells look. There are low-grade astrocytoma’s and high-grade astrocytoma’s. Low-grade astrocytoma’s are usually localized and grow slowly. High-grade astrocytoma’s grow at a rapid pace and require a different course of treatment. Most astrocytoma tumors in children are low grade. In adults, the majority are high grade.
An Astrocytoma is the most common type of primary brain tumor and is also found throughout the central nervous system. Glial tumors may cause patients to develop many symptoms. A more benign type of glioma ( a general term used to describe any tumor that arises from the supportive (“gluey”) tissue of the brain. This tissue, called “glia,” helps to keep the neurons in place and functioning well) can occur in younger people and could present as a seizure. Depending on the area of the brain involved, a progressive neurological problem, such as weakness, numbness, or speech problems can develop. Since the more malignant tumors enlarge rapidly, symptoms of increased pressure in the head are common: headache, visual loss, and personality change. Headache is characteristically worse in the morning when awakening. On rare occasions a glial tumor can bleed spontaneously, presenting with an acute neurological deficit of stroke.
The classification of gliomas is based upon the appearance of these tumors under the microscope. This requires a biopsy of tumor tissue and in general is predictive of the behavior of the tumor and the outlook for the patient. Glial tumors are divided into two basic cell types: astrocytoma’s and oligodendroglia’s. Gamma Knife is often used to treat patients whose disease has recurred after chemotherapy and radiotherapy and stereotactic radiosurgery may be used to treat gliomas deep within the brain, near sensitive brain regions or when the patient is not a candidate for surgery.