Astrocytomas
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What are Astrocytomas?

Astrocytoma is the most common type of primary brain tumor that can develop in the brain and spinal cord. Men are more likely to develop it than women, and it often appears after age 45.

They develop from astrocytes, which are brain cells. These cells support and protect the brain’s nerves (neurons) and assist in the transmission of messages between them. Because these cells are located throughout the brain, astrocytomas can form in various locations.

The brain also contains oligodendrocytes and ependymal cells as support cells. These cells are collectively referred to as glial cells, and the tissue they create is referred to as glial tissue. Tumors that grow from glial tissue, including astrocytomas, are referred to as gliomas.

Also Read: All About Glioma Brain Tumor: Types, Symptoms, Causes, Prevention

Types

  • Pilocytic astrocytomas (Grade I) – These slow-growing tumors are more common in children and can occur anywhere in the central nervous system, however, they are most commonly found near the cerebellum, brainstem, hypothalamus region, or optic nerve.
  • Diffuse astrocytomas (Grade II) – These tumors typically develop in the cerebral hemispheres of the brain. It is a tumor with ill-defined boundaries; small clusters of tumor cells tend to expand into and infiltrate nearby healthy tissue. 
  • Anaplastic astrocytomas (Grade III) –  These are grade III tumors that spread swiftly to adjacent tissue. They are difficult to remove due to their tentacle-like fingers that grow into adjacent brain tissue.
  • Glioblastomas (Grade IV) –  Glioblastomas account for more than half of all astrocytomas. They spread quickly and are difficult to treat because they are frequently a combination of several cancer cell types.

Causes

The specific cause of most astrocytomas is unknown.  It’s crucial to understand that there is nothing you could have done or refrained from doing that would have led to the development of a brain tumor in you or someone you know.

Risk factors

The risk factors are several of which we are aware. Certain hereditary abnormalities increase the likelihood of developing brain tumors for example Type 1 neurofibromatosis (NF1).

Astrocytomas can also develop as a result of therapeutic irradiation. Although suspected, other environmental exposures have not been proven to induce astrocytomas. 

Symptoms

The size and location of the astrocytoma affect the symptoms. Common signs include:

  • Headaches
  • nausea and diarrhea
  • Memory lapses
  • Seizures
  • Mental state changes
  • Fatigue
  • Visual issues
  • Additional cognitive and motor dysfunctions

Intracranial pressure elevation can cause aberrant reflexes or weakness on one side of the body.

headache

Diagnosis

The following tests and techniques are used to diagnose astrocytoma:

  • The most essential imaging examination for astrocytomas is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
  • MRS (MRI spectroscopy) is an MRI-based imaging method that offers information on the chemical composition of the tumor. It operates on the principle that certain chemicals are plentiful in the normal brain whereas others are high in tumors.
  • Functional MRI is a valuable tool for determining which areas of the brain become active when a patient is asked to execute a certain activity in real time.
  • Angiography, Positron emission tomography (PET scans), Electroencephalography (EEGs), Electrocardiograms (ECGs), and Chest X-rays are some of the other tests available.

Treatment

  • Surgery to remove all or as much of a tumor as possible is a likely initial step.
  • Radiation is frequently used when sections of a tumor cannot be removed or surgeons are unsure that they have removed all of the cancer.
  • Chemotherapy is commonly used in the treatment of glioblastoma and anaplastic astrocytoma. It can be used prior to or after radiotherapy.
  • Targeted therapy is a relatively new type of treatment that may be used to help with tumor shrinkage.
  • Electric-field therapy uses electrical fields to target tumor cells while sparing normal cells. It is accomplished by placing electrodes directly on the scalp. Optune is the name of the device.

When do we see Doctor?

If you have a headache plus other neurologic symptoms, such as weakness or feeling uncoordinated, these are all indicators that something is wrong and you should seek medical assistance. Your doctor will search for changes in your vision, hearing, balance, concentration, strength, and reflexes. These alterations can help you determine which portion of your brain is being affected by a tumor.

Prevention

You had no control over this and could not have prevented this from happening. Some hereditary diseases, such as neurofibromatosis, tuberous sclerosis, and Li-Fraumeni syndrome, are linked to malignant astrocytomas, however, these tumors arise in the majority of children without a known cause.

Also Read: All About Ependymoma: Types, Symptoms, Causes, Prevention