Astrocytoma is a kind of brain tumor, a CNS malignancy, formed by an abnormality in the cell-death process of astrocyte cells. Astrocytomas account for more than half all central nervous system (CNS) childhood neoplasms and are known to usually grow in one spot but may sometimes spread to the spinal cord through the spinal fluid in the brain, even though it is unusual. Astrocytomas are dangerous and are known to grow and undergo neoplastic transformation by destroying the parenchyma, or tissues of the brain and by taking away any nutrients and oxygen from the affected area while compensating the function of whatever area of the brain it is growing in. If diagnosed early the prolonged survival rate accounts only for the majority of those affected.
Astrocytomas have been classified by four different grades of brain tumors, all originated from glial cell-specific astrocytes, ranging from Grade I, JPA (Juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma) to Grade II, such as astrocytomas, usually found in the cerebellum or hypothalamus regions of the brain. Grade III and Grade IV, accounting for advanced types of neoplasm growths, are classified as anaplastic astrocytomas or glioblastomas (the most common and most severe type of brain tumor). The peak of occurrence for astrocytomas in children is between the ages of 5-9 years and can account for a number of symptoms such as: significant reduction in visual acuity, loss of balance, coordination, hemiplegia, lowered motor skills, or a deviation of eye movements. Most astrocytomas are low grade and are usually found in the mid-sections of the brain and usually require only surgical removal for a full recovery.
The more advanced types of astrocytomas are found in the pontine or supratentorial sections of the brain and will usually grow at a faster rate and may become large enough, before any symptoms are detected.
High grade glioblastomas and anaplastic astrocytomas penetrate the surrounding tissues of the brain; in that event, a combination of chemotherapy or radiotherapy may be recommended such as: stereotactic radiosurgery (a highly localized frequency of radiation energy). Some promising novel treatments such as immunotherapy or retinoid therapies are available also available, however, for high grade astrocytomas these are only palliative treatments.
Despite years of research, while therapies for these highly malignant tumors are available, unfortunately, these treatments currently do not cure the disease.