Diseases

Astrocytoma – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Astrozytom (Glioblastom)

Brain tumors are very rare, only about 2 percent of all new cancer cases affect the brain. However, when a brain tumor is diagnosed, it is a so-called astrocytoma in about a quarter of all cases . Astrocytomas are among the most common types of brain cancer. Their degrees of severity and the resulting chances of recovery vary greatly.

What is an astrocytoma?

An astrocytoma develops from degenerated brain cells. More precisely, from degenerated astrocytes, also called stellate cells, which belong to the supporting tissue of the human brain and are collectively called glial cells.

There are different types of astrocytomas, which differ greatly in terms of their severity and prognosis. Astrocytomas can be both benign and extremely malignant tumors. Physicians determine the severity of the disease by comparing the similarity of the tumor tissue with the surrounding healthy tissue.

The more similar the degenerated tissue is to the healthy one, the less dangerous the tumor is. Astrocytomas are divided into WHO grades. The astrocytoma with the lowest WHO grade I, the pilocytic astrocytoma, occurs almost exclusively in children and young adults, is benign and has a positive prognosis. WHO type II tumors, the differentiated astrocytoma, are still benign but can degenerate into malignancy. Finally, anaplastic astrocytoma, or WHO type III, is malignant.

Finally, the astrocytoma with the worst prognosis is glioblastoma . This shows a very rapid and, above all, diffuse growth, ie it is not clearly defined and can therefore usually not be surgically removed. The younger a person is, the higher the likelihood of a benign astrocytoma. The malignant variants mostly affect middle-aged men.

causes

Little is known about the causes of astrocytomas. It is certain that brain tumors of this type occur particularly frequently after radiation treatment . For this reason, radiation treatments and imaging procedures in medicine should be used as rarely as possible and only when there is a sufficient indication.

Those who suffer from the hereditary disease neurofibromatosis also have an increased risk of WHO type I astrocytomas. Other causes are unknown or unclear. However, various studies have shown that cell phone radiation has no effect on the incidence of brain tumors.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

The patient can perceive the first signs of a possible brain tumor themselves. In most cases, memory and concentration problems occur. Everyday things are forgotten or simply can no longer be remembered and managed. The concentration problems are often linked to speech and word -finding disorders , which can develop to aphasia and complete loss of speech.

Orientation problems are observed as well as balance and locomotion difficulties. For example, it is usually no longer possible for those affected to go to a desired destination independently by bike or car. In the initial phase, when the physical symptoms are even weaker, a journey is started, but the destination is lost on the way. Most patients initially notice their disorientation.

Visual disturbances are also a possible symptom of an astrocytoma or glioblastoma. They usually manifest themselves in double or multiple images. In rarer cases, a restriction of the field of vision is also reported, the affected person then only perceives sections of the whole picture.

Diagnosis & History

Astrocytomas can develop in many different parts of the brain. The symptoms differ depending on the location. However, typical signs of such a glioma are epileptic seizures, personality changes and increased intracranial pressure. The latter initially manifests itself as dizziness, nausea and vomiting.

If the astrocytoma is in the spinal cord, it can also lead to symptoms of paralysis up to paraplegia . Visual disturbances are also not an uncommon symptom. However, astrocytomas can only be diagnosed with certainty using an imaging method such as computed tomography or MRI .

complications

Due to the limited space within the skull, space-occupying processes have a much more dramatic effect than in other parts of the body. Complications from astrocytomas arise primarily when the tumor grows rapidly or invades surrounding brain structures. The faster the growth takes place, the greater the pressure increase inside the skull.

As a result of the intracranial pressure, there is a local compression of nerve tracts and brain centers, which can lead to death without medical treatment. In the case of more malignant astrocytomas, extensive edema also occurs, which further increases the space-occupying effect. The tumor can cause temporary or permanent brain damage.

The complications of astrocytomas include neurological deficits (hemiparesis, personality changes, visual field defects ), hydrocephalus and cerebral hemorrhage . The main goal of astrocytoma treatment is to reduce tumor mass. The therapies used can themselves have severe side effects and lead to complications.

In order to improve the starting point for further treatments, neurosurgeons try to shrink the tumor as much as possible without damaging healthy tissue. Intracranial pressure increases and postoperative bleeding are possible complications after surgical interventions. Stereotactic radiation therapy for astrocytomas serves to kill tumor cells in a targeted manner. As a complication of endogenous inflammatory processes, massive cerebral edema and a decompensated mass can then occur.

When should you go to the doctor?

If an astrocytoma is suspected, a doctor must be consulted immediately. Typical signs such as epileptic seizures, nausea, vomiting, dizziness or visual disturbances must be clarified immediately. Other warning signs are signs of paralysis and seizures as well as general physical or mental deficits. If one or more of these symptoms occur, a doctor should be consulted for further clarification.

This is especially true if the symptoms are noticed suddenly, occur after radiation treatment or in connection with the hereditary disease neurofibromatosis. Then there is the suspicion that it is a brain tumor. Immediate treatment is always required for astrocytomas, whether benign or malignant.

If symptoms reappear after treatment of an astrocytoma, the doctor treating you must be spoken to. The quicker the diagnosis and therapy takes place, the better the chances of recovery, even in the case of new cases. This applies not only to astrocytomas, but to all types of tumors. Therefore, unusual symptoms that cannot be traced back to a specific cause should be clarified immediately.

Treatment & Therapy

If possible, the tumors are surgically removed as far as possible. A tissue test is then performed to determine the WHO grade of the glioma. However, not all astrocytomas are operable; this possibility depends on the location of the tumor in the brain and its diffusivity. The more clearly a tumor is separated from healthy tissue, the sooner it can be operated on.

But even if the entire brain tumor cannot be cut out, the doctors treating you at least try to remove parts of the astrocytoma. Depending on the severity of the tumor, radiotherapy and possibly chemotherapy are carried out after the operation . Remaining tumor remnants are risky because these cells can continue to grow. However, at least a partial removal initially means a reduction in the size of the tumor and thus an improvement in the symptoms as well as reduced growth – ergo more life gained.

The brain tissue around the astrocytoma usually swells considerably, which is why the administration of cortisone preparations before an operation is necessary. These cause the tissue to swell. The administration of antiepileptic drugs may also be considered necessary. As a rule of thumb, the lower the WHO grade of the astrocytoma, the more likely it is to be completely removed.

Outlook & Forecast

The prognosis of an astrocytoma is to be classified individually based on several factors. The prospect of recovery depends on the location and size of the brain tumor. In addition, there is the age of the patient, possible previous illnesses and the stability of his immune system.

A small tumor in an easily accessible region of the brain has a good chance of being cured. If the patient is also in middle adulthood and does not suffer from any other impairments, he has a good chance of being discharged as cured within a few months.

The older the patient is and the more pre-existing conditions, the poorer the chances of recovery. In the case of a brain tumor located in an area of ​​the brain that is difficult to access, the chances of recovery also decrease. Often only parts of the diseased tissue can be successfully removed or there is no way to rid the patient of the tumor. The subsequent cancer therapy further weakens the organism.

Patients who successfully survive the procedure and therapy still live at risk of disease recurrence. In many cases, the tumor has spread and new metastases form in other parts of the body . Therefore, timely diagnosis of a brain tumor is essential for a prognosis of astrocytoma.

prevention

Since the causes of astrocytomas are not known, concrete preventive measures cannot be taken. However, it is recommended to minimize exposure to radiation and to avoid contact with carcinogenic substances. A lifestyle that is as healthy and active as possible also contributes to the prevention of cancer .

aftercare

Astrocytoma (glioblastoma) tends to recur. Consistent follow-up care is therefore very important. This consists primarily in the fact that the follow-up appointments with the treating physicians are conscientiously observed by the patient. In addition, the doctor should always be consulted if there are any unusual observations.

Paralysis and sensory disturbances in the limbs are just as much a part of the warning signals as are seizures or headaches that occur over a long period of time. Here the doctor can also be visited outside of the scheduled follow-up appointments. If therapies such as radiotherapy or chemotherapy as well as surgery have only recently been completed, the follow-up care also refers in particular to the consequences of these treatments.

For example, the condition of the wound after a head operation must be checked and weakness that may have arisen as a result of chemotherapy or radiotherapy must be checked and, if necessary, treated. It may also be necessary to involve the physiotherapist or occupational therapist in the follow-up care in order to restore the consequences of the tumor or therapy, such as functional restrictions in joints, muscles and nerves, as best as possible. This also applies to speech disorders, which are often associated with a brain disease.

The psychological component must also be included in the aftercare. Awareness of brain disease scares many people and worries about recurrence. Targeted psychological support can help to cope with the disease and give those affected a better quality of life. Psychologists and psychotherapists are valuable contacts here.

You can do that yourself

In the case of an astrocytoma or glioblastoma, self-help in everyday life can be divided into the physical and mental areas. Physically oriented self-help depends on the brain region in which the glioma is located and which symptoms or functional losses are noticeable.

Everyday help can include, for example, motor exercises that improve a functional disorder in the extremities that may have occurred after an operation. The same goes for language or memory exercises if the tumor has settled or settled in a responsible area of ​​the brain. Anyone suffering from the effects of radiation or chemotherapy can strengthen their immune system at home in consultation with their doctor .

A tumor in the brain is also a psychological burden for many patients. Relevant self-help groups or the cancer information service, which can be found on the Internet and offers telephone advice, offer help and information in this context. Conversations with friends can also have a relieving effect.

Physical activity and relaxation exercises help to improve well-being. In addition to light endurance training and strength training for weakened muscles, relaxation methods such as progressive muscle relaxation or autogenic training often help to improve well-being. With a proven mixture of physical and breathing exercises, relaxation and meditation, yoga is also suitable for improving the tense situation of those affected and increasing the quality of life despite astrocytoma or glioblastoma.

Website | + posts

Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.