Key Points about Astrocytoma
- Astrocytoma is cancer that affects the spinal cord or brain.
- Astrocytoma has a genetic link, meaning that your risk for the condition increases if someone else in your family has had the condition.
- Doctors use biopsy, imaging tests and physical exam to diagnose astrocytoma.
- Treatment for astrocytoma may include surgery, chemotherapy, targeted therapy and/or radiation therapy.
Astrocytoma is a type of cancer that begins in the brain or spinal cord. Astrocytoma begins in cells known as astrocytes, which work to support nerve cells.
This condition is caused by mutations (changes) to the DNA of the astrocytes.
Astrocytoma risk factors
The following factors may increase your risk for developing an astrocytoma:
- Being older
- Family history of certain genetic disorders
- Having undergone radiation therapy
Signs and symptoms of astrocytoma depend on the location of the tumor.
If your astrocytoma is located in the brain, you may experience:
If your astrocytoma is located in the spinal cord, you may experience:
- Weakness in the area that the tumor is affecting
Your oncologist may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose this condition:
- Physical exam – your doctor will perform a complete physical exam, including asking questions about your health history, symptoms and related risk factors. As part of this, your doctor will also perform a neurological exam, including checking your hearing, vision, balance, coordination, strength and reflexes.
- Biopsy – in this test, your doctor removes a biopsy (small tissue sample) from the suspicious area. This sample is sent to the laboratory, where a specialist closely checks the biopsy for abnormalities.
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan – this type of imaging test provides a 3D image of the inside of the body that your doctor can use to determine if there is any cancer present. Your doctor may use a CT scan to determine if cancer has spread beyond the your brain or spinal cord, as well as to stage the cancer.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – this type of imaging test uses high-powered magnets to create detailed images of the inside of your body. Your doctor can closely examine these images to look for any areas that could indicate cancer. Your doctor may use MRI to determine if cancer has spread beyond the your brain or spinal cord, as well as to stage the cancer.
- Ultrasound – this type of imaging test uses sound waves to create images of the inside of your body. Your doctor can closely examine ultrasound images to look for any areas that could indicate cancer.
Depending on your personal health history, the extent of the astrocytoma and other factors, your oncologist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:
- Surgery – your doctor may recommend a surgical procedure to remove as many of the cancerous cells as possible. In some cases, surgery may be the only treatment needed for astrocytoma. Your surgeon will work to preserve as much surrounding healthy tissue as possible.
- Chemotherapy – you may need to undergo chemotherapy to destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically. During this treatment, medication is used to destroy cancerous cells. Chemotherapy can be taken via an oral (by mouth) pill or intravenously (through a vein).
- Radiation therapy – this treatment uses high-powered energy beams to destroy cancerous cells. You may need to undergo radiation therapy to destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically.
When should I seek care?
If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an oncologist for more specialized treatment.