These tumors originate within star-shaped brain cells called astrocytes. These cells form the brain’s supportive structure. Astrocytomas can develop throughout the brain, and, less commonly, in the spinal cord.
Tumors result from a problem with the genetic code that regulates the growth and division of the body’s cells. This code can become damaged because of an inherited flaw, a virus or an environmental trigger. Once it is damaged, the cell can grow and divide abnormally. A tumor is a lump of these abnormal cells.
There are several different types of astrocytomas. They range from slow-growing to aggressive. They are classified depending on their characteristics. Some organizations use a three-tiered system. In this system, astrocytomas are classified as low, intermediate or high grade. Low grade astrocytomas are the slowest growing, and high grade astrocytomas are the most aggressive. Other organizations rank astrocytomas on a four-tiered scale. In this system, astrocytomas are given a grade of I to IV.
Symptoms of astrocytomas can vary greatly depending on the type, size and location of the tumor. They can affect the mind and body in many different ways. They can cause physical problems, such as severe headaches or nausea. They can cause seizures, weakness or numbness. They can also cause behavioral changes, such as confusion and impulsiveness.
Treatment options may include surgical removal, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. A patient’s treatment plan will depend on the aggressiveness of the tumor and its location within the brain. Treatment will also depend on the age, size and condition of the patient.