About the disease
Astrocytoma is a widespread type of brain tumor which mostly develops in cerebrum. Cerebrum is the largest part of human brain. Cells which are called astrocytes in this case become cancerous. It is also known as cancer of astrocytes. Astrocytes are supporting and adjunct cells of the brain. Astrocytoma is actually a subtype of the larger groups of brain malignant formations, which are called glioblastomas or simply gliomas. Cancer of astrocytes is considered to be the most common form of glioma. Its progression can occur in any place of the brain, but it is more widespread in cerebellum or brain stem. Brain stem is responsible for connection of brain nerve endings with spinal cord.
Sometimes astrocytoma can develop in the optical nerve. Optical nerve astrocytoma is more widespread among children. Optical nerve runs from the eye nerve endings to the brain.
It may actually develop at any age. Tumor is pale pink in its color. Density of malignant formation is virtually identical to brain matter. Usually it is separated from the substance form of the brain, but there are occasions when it is not possible to define the boundaries of astrocytoma. Tumors also often form cysts that grow slowly, but can reach significantly large sizes. In general, the formation of cysts in astrocytomas occurs among children. Among adults astrocytomas most often develop in the right or left hemispheres of the brain and among children - in the cerebellar hemispheres, where nodes have cysts. Astrocytoma can be fully removed only with surgery.
Brain malignant formations can be primary, when they arise from brain tissue, meninges and cranial nerves (glioblastoma, glioma) and secondary, when they originate from metastases that spread and grow with celerity from other kinds of cancerous formations. Glioblastoma is usually inoperable and that`s why it is complicated to treat and cure it.
Although the exact risk factors for astrocytoma malignant formation have not been identified, some studies indicate that the following risk factors increase the possibility of astrocytoma brain cancer development:
- Hazardous exposure to radiation
- Certain chemical substances
- Rubber production
- Moderate or severe headaches
- Episodes like in epilepsy
- Mood swings in patient`s behavior
- Emotional instability
- Decrease of weight
- Memory loss
- Speech disorder
- Impaired vision
- Unstable gait
- Memory, thinking and concentration dysfunction
- Coordination and balance dysfunction
- Visual hallucinations
To diagnose astrocytoma brain tumor, oncologists must find and identify the symptoms, learn the disease history of patient and eliminate other diseases. First of all, it is necessary to conduct general physical examination. Diagnosis of cerebral astrocytoma may include the following diagnostic procedures:
- Magnetic resonance imaging (known as MRI) uses magnetically strong waves to define and assess person`s anatomy of the brain. It is precise enough to define a brain tumor.
- Computed tomography is a device that captures, determines and then reproduces the picture of the brain tissues using only X-rays.
- Angiogram is also an X-ray study in which dye is injected directly into the arteries, allowing the doctor to look for damages in the arteries, which could lead to development of cancer.
- Biopsy/resection is a removal of brain tissue to test it for cancer cells. For this purpose, the skull is opened, then the brain tissue sample is removed, which is later examined under a microscope for the presence of cancer cells, and if detected, they can be removed surgically.
- Surgery aims to remove malignant cells as many of them as possible. If swelling is very big, surgery can often be accompanied by radiation therapy, radiosurgery or chemotherapy to prevent further proliferation.
- Radiation therapy (or radiation intervention) as a treatment for astrocytoma includes:
- External radiation therapy, when a doctor uses radioactive material outside the patient's body.
- Internal radiation therapy uses radioactive material which is placed in the patient's body close to cancer cells.
- Stereotactic biopsy is used if tumor was detected during biopsy and are removed immediately.
- Chemotherapy as the treatment of astrocytoma can be used in combination with other known treatment options. During chemotherapy patient is prescribed drugs that kill cancer cells. Treatment can be provided in absolutely various forms (pills, injections, and intravenous injection via a catheter). Chemotherapy drugs mix with the blood flow throughout the body, affecting mainly the cancer cells. Some healthy cells can also die as a manifestation of side effects. There are other side effects that patients with astrocytoma should be aware of. For instance, hair loss, nails crumbling, hot flashes, when they feel hot most of the time and they can not control body temperature. The course of this type of treatment can last several months. Side effects vanish when the course is finished and hair starts to grow back.