What Is Childhood Thalamic and Hypothalamic Astrocytoma?
Thalamic astrocytoma and hypothalamic astrocytoma are both a type of glioma (which is a type of brain tumor). They arise in the brain’s glial or supportive tissues.
- These tumors develop in the thalamus - a deep-lying part of the brain responsible for identifying sensation, such as temperature, pain and touch, and a relay center for movement; or the hypothalamus - the brain area just below the thalamus responsible for hormone functioning, body temperature, sleep and appetite.
- Sometimes, these tumors can affect both the thalamus and the hypothalamus.
At Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, your child will be in the expert and caring hands of world-renowned pediatric neuro-oncologists, surgeons, pathologists, and radiation oncologists. They come together in our Childhood Glioma Program, a part of our comprehensive Brain Tumor Center.
Symptoms of Childhood Thalamic and Hypothalamic Astrocytoma
Since thalamic and hypothalamic astrocytomas grow relatively slowly, a child may have been having symptoms for many months before diagnosis, or his symptoms may appear more suddenly. Many symptoms are associated with increased pressure in the brain, including:
- Headache - generally upon awakening in the morning
- Nausea and vomiting - often worse in the morning and improving throughout the day
- Weakness on one side of the body
- Symptoms of hormone imbalance, including weight loss/gain
- Symptoms of salt and water imbalance, including retaining water, swelling and frequent urination
- Changes in vision (since the thalamus and hypothalamus are found close to the visual pathway system in the brain)
How We Diagnose Childhood Thalamic and Hypothalamic Astrocytoma
Your child’s physician will begin by reviewing your child’s medical history and performing physical and neurological exams. Then, they will order a variety of diagnostic tests, including imaging studies and biopsy.
Your child’s medical team reviews the combined results to determine the best treatment options, which they will discuss with you and your family.
How We Treat Childhood Thalamic and Hypothalamic Astrocytoma
Your child’s treatment plan will depend on the tumor type, stage, and location. Treatment options may include:
- Surgery: Our goal is to remove as much of the tumor as safely as is possible. Surgery is often limited due to the deep, central location of the thalamus and hypothalamus in the brain.
- Chemotherapy: We may use chemotherapy, a drug treatment that aims to destroy or shrink cancer cells, either before or after surgery to eliminate any remaining cancer cells.
- Radiation therapy: We only use radiation if the tumor comes back. Most often, we recommend it for high-grade gliomas.
After treatment, we continue to provide ongoing care and support to children with thalamic or hypothalamic astrocytoma through our pediatric cancer survivorship programs, including the Stop & Shop Family Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Outcomes Clinic for pediatric brain tumor survivors. Services include ongoing MRI scans to monitor brain health, neurological assessment, social support, and integrative therapies.