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What is an Astrocytic Tumor?

Astrocytic gliomas are the most common tumors affecting the primary central nervous system, which comprises the brain and spinal cord. In fact, they account for up to two-thirds of all tumors that involve the glial cells. These cells surround the neurons in the brain and provide support and insulation between them. One of the most abundant glial cell types is the astrocytes. These star-shaped brain cells keep nerve cells healthy. It is here in the astrocytes that astrocytic tumors form. Doctors at the Florida Hospital Brain and Spinal Cancer Program have extensive experience with all forms of astrocytic tumors, from the extremely rare to the fairly common. Advanced diagnostics and treatments are utilized to combat these tumors at their various stages of growth. To learn more about astrocytic tumors, or to schedule an appointment, please call (407) 303-1700 or click here to fill out an online assistance form.

Astrocytic tumors include:

  • Brain stem glioma (glee-oh-ma): This type of brain tumor begins in the brain stem, which connects the rest of the brain to the spinal cord. It is often a high-grade tumor, because it can spread quickly through the brain stem and be difficult to cure. It accounts for 5% of adult brain tumors.
  • Pineal astrocytic tumor (Pie-knee-al as-tro-sit-ick): A pineal astrocytic tumor originates in the tissue around the pineal gland. This gland is a tiny organ in the brain that produces melatonin, the hormone that helps control your sleep and waking cycles. Pineal astrocytic tumors can be any grade.
  • Diffuse astrocytoma (as-tro-sy-toe-ma): Growing slowing, diffuse astrocytoma often spreads to nearby tissues as its name suggests. This growth can form in any part of the brain but is most often found in the cerebral hemisphere, or the "thinking" part of the brain. It is most common in young adults, but can occur in children and older adults.
  • Anaplastic astrocytoma: Although this form of cancer grows quickly and can spread to nearby tissues, it rarely spreads beyond the brain and spinal cord. It is usually located in the cerebrum.
  • Glioblastoma (glee-oh-blass-toe-ma): Glioblastomas grow and spread very quickly. It most often forms in the cerebrum of adults. This type of tumor accounts for almost 50% of all astrocytic tumors and most commonly diagnosed in adults 45-74 years of age.

Causes of an Astrocytic Tumor

Currently, the cause of an astrocytic tumor is unknown, but scientists are working to find more evidence as to why these tumors are created.

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Symptoms of an Astrocytic Tumor

The signs and symptoms associated with an astrocytic tumor may develop slowly or quickly depending on the location of the tumor in the brain and the speed of its growth. Often, the initial symptoms are caused by increased pressure in the brain (referred to as raised intracranial pressure). This pressure can be caused by blocked ventricles (fluid-filled areas in the brain), leading to a build-up of cerebrospinal fluid. This fluid surrounds and protects both the brain and spinal cord from minor injury. The pressure may also result from swelling around the tumor itself, causing headaches, sickness and vomiting, and problems with vision. The most common symptoms of astrocytic tumors are headaches and seizures. 

To learn more about astrocytic tumors, or to schedule an appointment, please call (407) 303-1700 or click here to fill out an online assistance form.

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Tests to Diagnose an Astrocytic Tumor

Our physicians at Florida Hospital Cancer Institute will need to find out as much as they can about the tumor in order to offer a correct diagnosis and treatment plan. This includes knowing the type, position and size. A variety of tests may be recommended, starting with your reflexes and the power and feeling in your arms and legs. Your physician may also check to see if your optic nerve is swollen, which can indicate a rise in pressure in the brain. Blood tests may also be taken in order to assess your general health and to see how well your kidneys are functioning. 

The following tests may be ordered to diagnose an astrocytic tumor:

CT (computerized tomography) scan
A CT scan takes a series of x-rays that allows the physician to see a three-dimensional picture of the inside of your body. The CT scan is painless and lasts for only a few minutes. Using a small amount of radiation, the scan will be harmless to you and to those around you. An injection of dye is given in order to let the physician see certain areas more clearly. The injection may make you feel warm or hot all over for a few seconds. Be sure to tell your doctor if you have an allergy to iodine or if you have asthma, as this could lead to a more serious reaction. 

MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging) scan
An MRI is similar to a CT scan but uses magnetism instead of x-rays to build up a detailed picture of the areas in your body. Before the scan you may be asked to remove any metal belongings, as well as jewelry. An injection of dye may be given into a vein in your arm, helping the images to show up more clearly. During the scan you will lie on a table inside a long cylinder for approximately 30 minutes. The scan is painless but may be slightly uncomfortable. The MRI technician will help make you as comfortable as possible and will give you earplugs or headphones to reduce the noise from the machine. 

Biopsy
Your physician will remove a small amount of tissue from the tumor in order to give a correct diagnosis. In most cases this involves an operation. One of our skilled neurosurgeons will make a very small hole in the skull and pass a fine needle into the tumor in order to remove a small sample. A CT scan will be performed at the same time in order to help guide the surgeon. Your physician will tell you whether or not a biopsy is necessary in your case and what the operation will involve. 

To learn more about astrocytic tumors, or to schedule an appointment, please call (407) 303-1700 or click here to fill out an online assistance form.

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Treatment for an Astrocytic Tumor

Treatment for an astrocytic tumor will vary depending on the specific case. As always, if you need more time to consider your options, you can always take more time. All patients are free to choose not to have treatment and our staff will explain what may happen if you decide to not have it. The following treatment options may be recommended for an astrocytic tumor.

Surgery
Radiotherapy
Chemotherapy
Steroids

To learn more about astrocytic tumors, or to schedule an appointment, please call (407) 303-1700 or click here to fill out an online assistance form.

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