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About Childhood Pilocytic Astrocytoma

  • Pilocytic astrocytoma is a type of brain tumor that originates from star-shaped cells called astrocytes. Astrocytes are a kind of glial cell, cells that support and nourish neurons in the brain.

    • Pilocytic astrocytomas are low-grade gliomas, slow-growing tumors that arise from glial cells.
    • Pilocytic astrocytoma is the most benign and most treatable of the gliomas. The cure rate is over 90 percent.

    At Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center, the pediatric cancer specialists in our Childhood Glioma Program have deep experience and expertise treating children with pilocytic astrocytoma.

    Symptoms of Childhood Pilocytic Astrocytoma

    Pilocytic astrocytoma is typically slow growing. Symptoms vary depending on the size and location of the tumor. For example, if the tumor blocks the flow of cerebrospinal fluid, a liquid that cushions the brain and spine, symptoms can come on quickly.

    Possible symptoms may 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
    • Seizures
    • Weight gain or loss
    • Premature puberty
    • Clumsiness
    • Confusion
    • Sleepiness
    • Changes in behavior

    How We Diagnose Childhood Pilocytic Astrocytoma

    Diagnosis starts with a comprehensive review of your child’s medical history and assessments of their physical and neurological health. Your doctor will also order various diagnostic tests including imaging studies, biopsy, EEG, and lumbar puncture.

    After we complete all tests and review the results, we will outline the best treatment options for your child’s needs.

    How We Treat Childhood Pilocytic Astrocytoma

    We personalize each child’s treatment approach to their medical situation. Treatment may include:

    • Surgery: Our goal is to 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 for your child 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, and social support.

    Research and Clinical Trials for Childhood Pilocytic Astrocytoma

    Our pediatric neuro-oncologists actively participate in research programs that advance pilocytic astrocytoma treatment.

    The Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Pediatric Low-Grade Astrocytoma (PLGA) Program is the world's only multidisciplinary clinical and research program for pediatric low-grade gliomas, including pilocytic astrocytoma. Established in 2007 with support from the PLGA Foundation, the program looks for more effective, less toxic treatments and a cure for children battling brain tumors.

    We continue to test new types of low-grade glioma treatment through clinical trials. If you have any questions about clinical trials, your child’s medical team is here for you.

    Long-term Outcomes for Children with Pilocytic Astrocytoma

    Innovative treatments have led to very high cure rates of 90 to 95 percent. Children cured of pilocytic astrocytoma enjoy a quality of life better than most other children with cancer. Balance, strength, and coordination may be compromised, but fertility and life expectancy are not.

    Childhood Pilocytic Astrocytoma Treatment Team

    We bring together the world’s top pediatric brain tumor doctors to treat children with pilocytic astrocytoma. View a complete list of the specialists in our Childhood Brain Tumor Center.