An astrocytoma is a brain tumor that originates from star-shaped cells called astrocytes. Astrocytes are a kind of glial cells, cells that nourish neurons in the brain.
- Astrocytoma is a glioma, a tumor that arises from the glial cells.
- Astrocytomas are divided into four grades, depending on the cells' appearance under a microscope; the higher a tumor's grade number, the more severe it is.
- Grades 1 and 2 are considered low-grade astrocytomas.
- Grades 3 and 4 are considered high-grade astrocytomas.
- Most astrocytomas are both highly treatable and curable.
- The most common kind of low-grade glioma is pilocytic astrocytoma. It has a cure rate of over 90 percent.
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 Astrocytoma
Your child’s symptoms will highly depend on the size and location of the astrocytoma. Common symptoms include:
- Headache, particularly in the morning or made better by vomiting
- Severe or frequent vomiting without other signs of gastrointestinal illness
- Vision problems, such as double vision, blurry vision, or loss of vision
- Difficulty walking or balancing
- Weight gain or loss
- Premature puberty
- Changes in behavior
How We Diagnose Childhood Astrocytoma
Your child’s doctor will start 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, biopsy, EEG, and lumbar puncture.
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 Astrocytoma
Each child’s treatment plan depends on the tumor’s type, stage, and location. Treatment options may include:
- Surgery: The surgeon will remove as much of the tumor as possible.
- Chemotherapy: We may use chemotherapy, a drug treatment that aims to destroy or shrink cancer cells, either before or after treatment to eliminate any remaining tumor cells.
- Radiation therapy: We only use radiation if it’s appropriate for the type of glioma. Most often, we recommend it for high-grade gliomas.
- Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy, also called precision medicine, works by tailoring treatment to the genetic characteristics of the cancer in an individual child.
After treatment, we continue to provide care and support to children with 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.
Research and Clinical Trials for Childhood Astrocytoma
Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s pediatric neuro-oncologists actively participate in research programs that further our understanding of astrocytoma treatment.
We offer innovative brain tumor clinical trials for children with astrocytomas. Some of these were launched by our own physicians, while others are available through our participation in collaborative groups such as the Children's Oncology Group (COG) and the Pediatric Oncology Experimental Therapeutics Investigators' Consortium (POETIC).
Please consult with your child’s medical team if you have questions or would like to learn more about clinical trials.
Long-term Outcomes for Children with Astrocytoma
Astrocytoma in children tends to be highly responsive to treatment. The cure rate is over 90 percent. Immediate medical attention and appropriate treatment are critical for the best possible outcomes.
Childhood Astrocytoma Treatment Team
The world’s top pediatric cancer doctors at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s continue to innovate promising clinical trials and advance the treatment of childhood brain tumors. See a complete list of the specialists in our Childhood Brain Tumor Center.