Skip to nav Skip to content

Dr. James Liu in the Neuro-Oncology Program

Astrocytoma is a rare form of brain cancer that arises in astrocytes, a specialized type of glial cell. Within the central nervous system, astrocytes support nerve cells (neurons) by carrying out repair processes, delivering nutrients and regulating electrical impulses in the brain.

Based on its cellular characteristics and aggressiveness, astrocytoma can be classified into grades ranging from low (1 and 2) to high (3 and 4). Grade 4 astrocytoma, also known as glioblastoma multiforme, is the most common—and most aggressive—type of primary brain tumor diagnosed in adults.

Astrocytoma causes

Like other brain tumors, astrocytoma occurs when healthy brain cells undergo harmful DNA changes that cause them to grow and divide uncontrollably. Recent studies suggest that a mutation in the IDH1 gene contributes significantly to the development of low-grade astrocytoma. The mutation triggers the production of 2-HG, a chemical that builds up in healthy astrocytes over time. The abnormal astrocytes then bind together and form tumors.

The exact causes of DNA mutations that lead to the development of astrocytoma remain unclear. Scientists believe some cases may be associated with a genetic factor or hereditary condition, but the majority of these complex tumors occur sporadically with no clear genetic predisposition.

Astrocytoma risk factors

Although scientists do not yet fully understand the precise causes of astrocytoma, they have identified certain factors that may contribute to its development. These include:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Certain rare hereditary syndromes, such as neurofibromatosis
  • Certain genetic mutations
  • Exposure to ionizing radiation from medical treatments or environmental sources

Astrocytoma symptoms

The signs of astrocytoma can vary based on the grade, size and location of the tumor. Common symptoms include:

  • Persistent headaches
  • Seizures
  • Changes in personality or mood
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Numbness or muscle weakness in the arms and legs
  • Difficulties with balance and coordination
  • Changes in vision or speech

Because astrocytoma symptoms can be nonspecific and often resemble those of other neurological conditions, early detection and a thorough medical evaluation are essential. Timely diagnosis can significantly impact treatment outcomes.

Astrocytoma diagnosis

The diagnostic process for astrocytoma typically involves a combination of imaging studies, a neurological examination and sometimes a biopsy. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can help a physician visualize the brain and identify the presence, location and characteristics of the tumor. Computed tomography (CT) scans can also provide detailed images of the brain tissues.

During a neurological examination, a physician can identify neurological abnormalities that may be associated with a tumor by assessing the patient’s cognitive function, motor skills, coordination and sensory perception. In some cases, a biopsy is performed to obtain a sample of the tumor tissue for a detailed analysis under a microscope, which can help the physician confirm the diagnosis and determine the tumor grade.

Astrocytoma treatment

The treatment options for astrocytoma may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, targeted therapy and clinical trials. The optimal approach can vary depending on factors such as the tumor grade, size and location and the patient’s age,  overall health and preferences. Due to the variable nature of astrocytoma, a comprehensive and individualized treatment approach is essential.

Benefit from world-class care at Moffitt Cancer Center

The multispecialty team in Moffitt’s Neuro-Oncology Program has extensive experience in diagnosing and treating astrocytoma and other rare and complex types of brain cancer. Our experts include neurosurgeons, medical oncologists, neuropathologists, neuroradiologists, radiation oncologists and neuropsychologists who collaborate to ensure our patients can achieve the best possible outcome and quality of life.

Nationally recognized as a cancer research trailblazer, Moffitt has earned the designation of Comprehensive Cancer Center from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Through our robust clinical trials portfolio, our patients can benefit from promising new treatments before those options are made widely available.

If you would like to learn more about your astrocytoma diagnosis, you can request an appointment with a specialist in our Neuro-Oncology Program by calling 1-888-663-3488  or submitting a new patient registration form online. We do not require referrals.