Astrocytoma is a type of malignant brain tumor. Specifically, Astrocytoma is cancer of the astrocytes, which are star-shaped cells which are a type of glial cell. Glial cells are cells that support and protect the neurons in the brain. Cancer of these supportive cells are called gliomas, thus, Astrocytoma is a type of glioma. An astrocytoma can occur anywhere in the brain; it is one of the most common types of glioma.
What are the symptoms of astrocytoma?
The symptoms of astrocytoma may include:
Problems with cognition
Difficulty with balance and walking
Symptoms according to location of astrocytoma
Frontal lobe (front of head) – If the astrocytoma is located in one of the frontal lobes, an individual may experience gradual mood and personality changes. The individual may also experience hemiplegia (paralysis on one side of the body).
Temporal lobe (located on the side next to the frontal lobe) – If the astrocytoma is located in one of the temporal lobes, the individual may have memory, speech and coordination problems.
Parietal lobe (located on the side next to the frontal lobe) – If the tumor is located on one of the parietal lobes, the individual may have problems with writing and other tasks that requires fine motor skills. The individual may also have lack of sensation on the affected side.
Cerebellum (located on the back part of the brain just above the brain stem) – If the astrocytoma is located in the cerebellum, the individual may have balance and coordination problems.
Occipital lobe (located on the back of the brain just above the occipital lobe) – If the tumor is located in the occipital lobe, the individual may have problems with vision and may experience visual hallucinations.
Spinal cord – If the astrocytoma is located on the spinal cord, the tumor may be cancerous or non-cancerous. The symptoms may vary according to the location of the astrocytoma. The symptoms may include back pain, difficulty walking, muscle weakness, loss of bladder function, loss of sensation in the extremities and paralysis.
What causes astrocytoma?
It isn’t exactly understood what causes astrocytoma; however it is believed that heredity, viral infections, and certain environmental factors may put a person at risk for developing an this type of brain tumor. Certain occupations (working with chemicals, radiation and oil refining) may put an employee at risk for astrocytoma.
In adults, the most common place for an astrocytoma to occur is in the cerebrum; in children, astrocytomas are most likely to occur in the optic nerves, cerebellum, brain stem and spinal cord. The symptoms of astrocytoma may depend on where the tumor is located, the size of the tumor, the age of the patient, the aggressiveness of the cancer, and the neurological manifestations caused by the tumor.
The diagnosis and treatment options for people with astrocytoma will be addressed in a future article.