This is a health condition in which a person develops tumors in the brain or spinal cord. Mostly, these tumors develop spontaneously. The main treatment for this condition is surgery. However, it depends on the type, the severity, and other factors.

What is Astrocytoma?

These tumors usually develop in the central nervous system (CNS) and grow from star-shaped astrocyte cells. In any case, tumors that develop in the brain or spinal cord can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous).

The cells that provide supportive tissue in the brain are called astrocytes and they are glial cells. However, there are other glial cells (such as oligodendrocytes and ependymal cells). In addition, the most common glioma is astrocytoma. If the glial cells grow out of control a tumor is forming and this process is called glioma. Experts divide this condition into 4 groups that help to describe the astrocytoma types.

Astrocytoma Types

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the grade of this condition depends on how fast it grows and spreads to nearby tissues.

Noncancerous Astrocytomas

Astrocytomas that belong to the first grade usually are noncancerous. Examples include:

  • Subependymal giant cell astrocytoma (SEGA) – A tumor that usually appears in children with tuberous sclerosis (a genetic disorder). Commonly, doctors prescribe surgery because it cures this astrocytoma type.
  • Pleomorphic xanthoastrocytoma – Surgery usually can cure this brain tumor type. In most cases, it develops slightly in the temporal lobe. It can also provoke seizures.
  • Pilocytic astrocytoma – In such cases, the tumor grows slowly and usually does not spread to other brain tissues. It also is considered the most common grade 1 astrocytoma. As the tumor is benign it does not need chemotherapy and radiation therapy after surgery.

Cancerous Astrocytomas

  • Second-grade astrocytomas – These tumors are cancerous and tend to spread to other brain tissues. As a result, surgery removal may be not enough.
  • Third-grade astrocytomas – These tumors are more aggressive and are noticed as a progression of the grade 2 astrocytomas. Only the surgery cannot cure these astrocytomas thus, you may need radiation and chemotherapy.
  • Glioblastomas – This is the last astrocytomas grade and these tumors are more aggressive than previous ones and tend to grow and spread quite fast.

Who Does Impact Astrocytomas?

All people can get this condition but different grades impact at different ages. Examples include:

  • Usually, is diagnosed in children and teens (Grade 1 astrocytomas).
  • The second-grade astrocytomas often affect adults from 20 to 60 years old.
  • In most cases, adults between 30 and 60 years old experience grade 3 astrocytomas.
  • People aged between 50 and 80 years old commonly experience grade 4 astrocytomas.

How Common is Astrocytoma?

Generally, it is not a common condition but some grades are more common than others. For example:

  • Grade 1 – Accounts for roughly 2% of all brain tumors.
  • Grade 2 – About 2%-5% of all brain tumors.
  • Grade 3 – Approximately 4% of all brain tumors.
  • Grade 4 – These tumors are also called glioblastomas and account for 24% of all brain tumors.

Glioblastoma is considered one of the most common brain cancer types in adults.


The symptoms usually are based on the astrocytoma grade a person experiences. Check below some examples:

  • Seizures
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Memory loss
  • Altered mental status (including dementia or delirium)
  • Cognitive problems (including personality changes or mood changes)
  • Fatigue
  • Vision problems
  • Speaking problems or aphasia
  • Motor issues (including abnormal reflexes or weakness)

If you experience any of the previous symptoms, visit a doctor immediately.


Experts do not know the exact cause of this condition. However, they found two factors that increase your risk of this disease (such as radiation exposure and genetics). In addition, some recent research, suggests that a gene mutation (IDH1) contributes to the development of low-grade astrocytomas. In normal circumstances, this gene is responsible for providing energy to the cells.

Radiation Exposure

You may be at higher risk of developing astrocytomas if you experience radiation therapy. For example, a child aged between 5-10 years old who receives radiation therapy for acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) is more likely to develop a central nervous system tumor (astrocytoma).


In most cases, the following disorders are linked with the astrocytomas development. Check some examples below:

  • Li-Fraumeni syndrome – When there are some changes in the TP53 gene, this disease occurs. Children with this syndrome have a 90% chance of developing cancer during their life.
  • Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) – Those who experience NF1 can develop astrocytomas, peripheral nerve tumors, and spots on their skin (café-au-lait spots).
  • Tuberous sclerosis – A health condition in which a person experiences mutations in 2 genes (TSC1 and TSC2). People with this condition can experience developmental delays, tumors in the body, epilepsy, and other medical conditions.
  • Turcot syndrome – People with this condition experience polyps in the intestinal tract and brain or spinal cord tumors (such as astrocytoma) due to some genetic mutations.


Sometimes, it can be difficult for healthcare professionals to diagnose this condition because the astrocytoma symptoms are very similar to other neurological diseases. However, they will ask questions about the symptoms and medical history and will perform a neurological examination. If doctors are not sure you have astrocytoma, they can also order you some tests including MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and CT (computed tomography) scan. Your doctor may also recommend a biopsy if on the brain imaging test appears something abnormal.


Usually, mild cases of astrocytoma (grade 1) are curable by surgery. Rarely, surgery can help to cure second-grade astrocytomas. Unfortunately, grade 3 and 4 astrocytomas cannot be cured and to lessen the symptoms, you may need medicines and radiation therapy. Check below some primary treatment options for astrocytomas:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Tumor-treating fields (used mostly for glioblastomas)
  • Adjuvant chemotherapy (such as chemotherapy with Temozolomide, Bevacizumab, and others)

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it possible to prevent this health condition?

However, you cannot prevent the development of this condition because it commonly occurs spontaneously (randomly). In most cases, people with genetic disorders are at higher risk of getting astrocytomas. Consult with your doctor for more details.

What is the survival rate of astrocytoma?

The survival rate depends on the grade of this condition you experience. For example:

  • Grade 1 (Pilocytic astrocytomas) – More than 10 years
  • Grade 2 – More than 5 years
  • Grade 3 – Between 2-5 years
  • Grade 4 (Glioblastomas) – Approximately 1 year

These survival rates are based on large groups of people with astrocytoma. Therefore, you should talk with your doctor about your survival rate in case you experience this condition.

Is astrocytoma life-threatening?

Yes, even mild astrocytoma cases can be dangerous. It can occur because these tumors can spread to other brain tissues. Ask your healthcare professional if you have any questions.

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