Astrocytoma is a brain tumour that arises from star-shaped brain cells called astrocytes that are found in the cerebellar hemisphere of the brain. Although people of any age may develop astrocytomas, its low grade version usually afflicts children between 5 and 10 years of age. It accounts for roughly 75% of neuroepithelial tumors. About half of childhood brain tumors are astrocytomas. The tumour as it occurs in children is usually benign in nature and cystic in consistency. They are usually slow-growing and do not spread to other parts of the body. At times, however, they may spread to the spine.
Primarily there are four types of astrocytomas that affect children the most common being the juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma (Grade I). This is a slow-growing tumor, fluid-filled or cystic and develops in the cerebellum. Surgical removal is often the only treatment necessary. The other less common forms of the tumour are:
- Fibrillary astrocytoma (Grade II): It infiltrates into the surrounding normal brain tissue, making surgical removal more difficult. A fibrillary astrocytoma may cause seizures.
- Anaplastic astrocytoma (Grade III): A malignant tumour this can produce symptoms such as weakness, unsteady walking and a loss of sensation.
- Glioblastoma multiforme (Grade IV): The most malignant type of astrocytoma it grows rapidly, increasing pressure in the brain. This is relatively very rare.
Doctors at GIN will put children presenting with symptoms of astrocytoma through a comprehensive physical examination and ask several questions that may help them in diagnosing the cause of their symptoms. Following this, they may if needed, order imaging tests such as a CT Scan or MRI to confirm the diagnosis. The contrast dye used in these imaging procedures help in identifying tumor cells if any from its surrounding normal structures. However, the final confirmation of the type and the grade of tumor is based on a biopsy report after the surgical removal of the tumor.
Surgery is the treatment of choice. Total resection is often possible; however, occasionally due to its location this may be difficult if not impossible. In such cases either the patient is put under a regimen of strict follows up with his surgeon or is advised radiotherapy. Such decisions depend entirely on the type and the grade of the tumor.
MRI: Uses radio waves and a strong magnetic field to produce detailed images of your brain. You lie on a narrow table that slides into a tube-shaped MRI machine, which makes loud banging noises while it produces images. MRIs are currently used primarily to rule out other conditions that may account for cognitive symptoms.
Computerized tomography (CT) scan: A CT scan uses X-rays to get cross-sectional images of a child’s brain. It is used to identify abnormalities in his brain. Scanning is painless and takes about 20 minutes. But because your child will need to be very still during the test, he or she will likely receive a mild sedative.
Neuro-navigation with the help of intra-op real-time imaging helps in complete excision of the tumor without damaging the surrounding normal brain tissue.