Astrocytoma Brain Tumors

Astrocytoma tumors are a form of glioma with star-shaped cells. They often grow very slowly or not at all for long periods of time. Therefore, close observation rather than treatment is possible in some cases (especially ones associated with neurofibromatosis).

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Symptoms

General symptoms of an astrocytoma tumor are a result of growing pressure inside the skull. These symptoms include headache, vomiting and mental status changes. Other symptoms, such as drowsiness, lethargy, obtuseness, personality changes, disordered conduct and impaired mental faculties show up early in about one out of every four patients with malignant brain tumors.

In young children, the growing pressure of an astrocytoma tumor inside the skull may enlarge the head. Changes (such as swelling) may be observed in the back of the eye, where the blind spot is. Usually there are no changes in temperature, blood pressure, pulse or respiratory rates except just before death. Seizures are more common with meningiomas, slow-growing astrocytomas and oligodendrogliomas than with malignant gliomas.

Symptoms of an astrocytoma tumor vary depending on what part of the brain (or which glands or nerves) are affected by the tumor. Sometimes the nature of the seizures can help determine the location of the brain tumor.

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Diagnosis

A neurologic evaluation should be conducted if a patient has slowly increasing signs of mental dysfunction, new seizures, persistent headaches or evidence of pressure inside the skull, such as vomiting or swelling or protrusion of the blind spot at the back of the eye.

A neurologist (a doctor who has received special additional training in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the brain, spinal cord and nerves)performs a complete examination, which may include a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, a computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan or a chest X-ray to determine if the tumor has spread from another part of the body. An MRI usually finds low-grade astrocytomas earlier than CT. Cerebral angiography is rarely used to diagnose a brain tumor, but it may be done before surgery.

Depending on the patient's symptoms, specialized tests may be done. These include tests of the field of vision, the sharpness of vision and hearing.

If the results of other tests aren't conclusive, an examination of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord may be done. This is usually unnecessary.

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Treatments

Treatment of a brain tumor depends on the nature of the tumor, how rapidly it is growing, what symptoms it is causing and where it is located. Usually several treatment approaches are used. Surgery is usually done to make a diagnosis and to improve symptoms. This may be enough to cure benign brain tumors.

Radiation therapy is required to treat gliomas. Radiation therapy may also be beneficial in the short-term for tumors that have spread from other parts of the body. Chemotherapy also benefits some patients with such brain tumors.

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