Patient's Complete Guide to Astrocytomas
Overview of Astrocytomas
Cancer cells show abnormal growth of cells. The body’s normal control mechanism stops working, old cells don’t die and cells grow uncontrollably forming abnormal cells. Cancer cells can be benign or malignant.
Astrocytoma (Najam Khalwi Salea/ نجم خلوی سلعہ ) is a tumour that develops from the supportive tissue of the brain astrocytes (star-shaped cells). Astrocytomas are classified into 4 grades depending on the spread and growth of the cancer cells.
Astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, and ependymal cells collectively form the glial cells which form glial tissue. Glial tissue tumours are commonly known as gliomas. Gliomas are considered to be a rare disease. They are more common in men.
Prevalence of Astrocytoma
Grade 1 astrocytoma accounts for 2 percent of all brain tumours. Grade 2 occurs between the ages of 20 and 40. Grade 3 accounts for 4 percent of all brain tumours. Grade 4 accounts for 23 percent of all brain tumours.
Signs and Symptoms of Astrocytomas
Astrocytoma is a slow-growing tumour. Symptoms in the first and second grade are very subtle while in the last two stages are sudden. Signs and symptoms include:
- Memory loss
- Blurry vision
- Behaviour change
- Speech difficulties
Types of Astrocytomas
There are 4 grades of astrocytoma:
Grade 1 Astrocytoma
Grade one is the most benign. Grade 1 tumours are classified as follows:
This is the most slow-growing tumor and is highly circumscribed. It occurs in the cerebellum and is not spread to other parts of the brain. No chemo or radiotherapy is required for this.
It occurs in the temporal lobes which trigger seizures. It can have many shapes hence the name pleomorphic. Surgery is the best treatment for this tumour with full recovery.
Subependymal Giant Cell Astrocytoma (SEGA)
It occurs in the younger population. It blocks the ventricles of the brain and the outflow of the fluid is hindered. Surgery is recommended.
Grade 2 Astrocytoma
Grade 2 has the following types:
It is an invasive tumor. This tumour can grow into other parts of the brain and are higher in number than grade 1. Surgery alone is not enough.
Grade 3 Astrocytoma
Grade 3 has one type:
It is a more malignant form of cancer with aggressive symptoms. It presses more into the brain and surgery alone is not curative. Radio and chemotherapy are necessary for treatment.
Grade 4 Astrocytoma
Grade 4 has only one type:
The most malignant, and deadly astrocytoma is glioblastoma. It is a fast-progressing tumour and is highly invasive. It is usually diagnosed in the last stage.
Causes of Astrocytomas
The exact cause of astrocytoma is still unknown. Genetic, environmental factors and stress play a major role in cancer. Genetic disorders can cause a great number of gliomas.
Risk Factors of Astrocytomas
Risk Factors of Astrocytoma
The chances of astrocytoma are higher because of the following factors:
- Age: With increasing age the chances of astrocytoma increase. People above the age of 30 are more likely to get affected.
- Family History: People with family histories of specific genetic disorders have a greater risk of developing astrocytomas
- Radiations: Previous exposure to radiations for a medical condition can also increase the risk of astrocytomas.
Complications Associated with Astrocytoma
Astrocytomas may result in serious neurological damage including:
- Neurological Impairment
Higher grade astrocytomas can spread throughout the brain and damage the spinal cord, leading to death.
There is no concrete evidence that can support how to prevent astrocytoma. As the cause is still unknown to date, there is no identifiable way to prevent this. More research is needed in this aspect.
A neurologist is firstly consulted regarding all brain issues. A neurological exam is conducted and imaging tests such as MRI is done to diagnose a brain tumour. A CT or PET scan is also performed if needed.
Treatment of Astrocytomas | When to Consult a Doctor
Treatment methods for gliomas are as follows:
The first step to treat astrocytoma is surgery. The mass is removed as effectively as possible.
In chemotherapy, drugs are used to attack cancer cells. A combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy can be given to the patient.
Chemotherapy has visible side effects because the drugs also kill healthy cells alongside cancer cells. Side effects of chemotherapy are:
- Hair loss
- Extreme pain
The radiation beam is used to kill cancer cells in radiation therapy. Radiation can be administered both externally and internally. A combined treatment of both therapies has long-lasting and severe side effects including:
- Sunburned skin
- Extreme pain
- Pain or difficulty while swallowing
- Painful ulcers formation in the lining of the esophagus
A detailed genetic analysis is performed on the tissue tumour removed during surgery.
Astrocytomas are a rare form of cancer that usually affects adults over 60 or younger children. They are usually diagnosed at a later stage.