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astrocytoma

Astrocytoma is a type of cancer that can form in the brain or spinal cord. Astrocytoma begins in cells called astrocytes that support nerve cells.

Astrocytoma signs and symptoms depend on the location of your tumor. Astrocytomas that form in the brain can cause seizures, headaches, and nausea. Astrocytomas that form in the spinal cord can cause weakness and disability in the area affected by the growing tumor.


The astrocytoma can be a slow growing tumor or it can be a fast growing aggressive cancer. The aggressiveness (grade) of your astrocytoma determines your prognosis and treatment options.


Diagnosis

Tests and procedures used to diagnose astrocytoma include:

Neurological examination. During the neurological examination, your doctor will ask you about your signs and symptoms. It can check your vision, hearing, balance, coordination, strength and reflexes. Problems in one or more of these areas can provide clues about the part of your brain that may be affected by a brain tumor.

Imaging tests. Imaging tests can help your doctor determine the location and size of your brain tumor. MRI is often used to diagnose brain tumors and can be used in conjunction with specialized MRI imaging such as functional MRI, perfusion MRI, and magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

Other imaging tests may include CT and positron emission tomography (PET).

Removing a sample of tissue for testing (biopsy). Depending on your particular situation and the location of your tumor, a biopsy may be done with a needle to remove your astrocytoma before or during surgery. Suspicious tissue sample is analyzed in a laboratory to determine cell types and aggression levels.

Special tests of tumor cells can tell your doctor the types of mutations the cells have acquired. This gives your doctor clues about your prognosis and can guide your treatment options.

Treatment

Astrocytoma treatments include:

Surgery to remove the astrocytoma. Your neurosurgeon will work to remove as much of the astrocytoma as possible. The goal is to remove all cancer, but sometimes the astrocytoma is found near sensitive brain tissue, making this very risky. Even removing some of the cancer can reduce your signs and symptoms.

For some people, surgery may be the only treatment needed. For others, additional treatments may be recommended to kill any remaining cancer cells and reduce the risk of the cancer returning.

Radiation therapy. Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays such as X-rays or protons to kill cancer cells. During radiation therapy, you lie on a table while a machine moves around you directing the rays to precise spots in your brain.

Radiation therapy may be recommended after surgery if your cancer has not been completely removed or if there is an increased risk of your cancer returning. Radiation is often combined with chemotherapy for aggressive cancers. For people who cannot have surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy may be used as primary treatment.

Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs can be taken in pill form or through a vein in your arm. In some cases, a circular layer of chemotherapy drug may be placed in your brain after surgery, where it slowly dissolves and releases the drug.

Chemotherapy is often used after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells. It can be combined with radiation therapy for aggressive cancers.

Supportive (palliative) care. Palliative care is specialized medical care that focuses on relieving the pain and other symptoms of a serious illness. Palliative care professionals work with you, your family, and other doctors to provide an extra layer of support that complements your ongoing care. It can be used during other aggressive treatments such as palliative care, surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy.


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