Astrocytoma is a slowly progressive and infiltrative tumorthat develops from astrocytes, star-shaped glial cells in the brain and spinal cord. The disease is one of gliomas,tumors developed from glial cells of the brain or spine, the supportive tissue of neurons which are part of theastrocytes.
Astrocytoma is an invasive tumor of the cerebral hemispheres in adults, as well as the cerebellum in children. The disease may correspond to different stagesdepending on histological cell differentiation. It can beBenin, but it can turn into anaplastic astrocytoma, or agreater degree of malignancy in Glioblastoma multiforme(the most aggressive malignant primary brain tumor in humans).
The clinical characteristics of astrocytoma in adults are marked by late and isolated epilepsies: Tonic–clonic seizures /epilepsies (formerly known as grand mal seizures) or Localization-related epilepsies. Patients may also experience headache, intracranial hypertension or progressive motor deficit.
Children may have trouble walking and/or standing as well. It is also possible that children suffer from astrocytomas feels pressure on their brain, given the tumor is usually in the vicinity of the brain. Indeed, the occurrence of an astrocytoma near the cerebellum, for example, can lead to poor circulation of cerebrospinal fluid and therefore a significant pressure on the brain. As the tumor grows, this pressure can be discovered either by mismanagement of balance (in some cases) or by an ophthalmologist who can find excessive intracranial pressure.
In general, astrocytoma symptoms may include:
- Hearing problems
- Speech difficulties
- Difficulty with balance
- Personality or behavior changes
- Confusion in minor or daily matters
- Headache that gradually becomes more severe
- Change in pattern of headaches, more frequent for instance
- Nausea or vomiting with no real apparent reasons
- Vision problems: blurred vision, double vision, loss of peripheral vision, etc.
- Gradual loss of sensation or movement in an arm or a leg
In case of benign astrocytoma, the therapeutic approach may consist of surgical excision if the tumor isaccessible; clinical monitoring and CT scan (or MRI); application of a drain to remove the pressure, a procedure performed rarely due to the position of the tumor. Antiepileptic treatment may be necessary.
For astrocytomas that are not advanced, surgical removal of the tumor will allow an extension of life of the patient for many years. In fact, the five-year survival is about 90% of well resected astrocytomas.
Surgical removal of advanced astrocytomas is not easy. Even today, despite advances in medicine, a complete resection of advanced stages astrocytomas is impossible due to the diffuse infiltration of tumor cells into normal parenchyma, which makes high-stage astrocytomas tend to return after the initial surgery or therapy. Cancers returned after initial treatment are usually treated similarly as the original tumor. But despite therapeutic research and spending of trillions of dollars, complete healing is still non-existent for astrocytomas diagnosed at an advanced stage. Patients suffer from advanced or serious astrocytomas are treated with palliative care.