Understanding Astrocytoma: Tumors of the Brain

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What is a Tumor?

All the cells in the body are strictly regulated in terms of their growth size, whether they can reproduce, and when they can divide into new cells. Through new cell production, the body can adapt to changing needs, repair tissue damage, and replace tissue loss. When this system is altered, it may result in some undesirable consequences. From arthritic destruction of bones to tumor growth, consider Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics.

Genetic damage alters a cell’s ability to regulate itself. It then becomes susceptible to disordered, unregulated growth which results in the formation of a mass of cells lumped together called a tumor. Genetic damage can be caused by environmental pollutants (carcinogens), radiation, or even infections. Admittedly, some individuals are predisposed to tumor formation more so than others.

Most tumor masses are benign. That is to say that no matter how large the tumor grows, it does not invade into nearby structures and it does not splinter off, then travel to another part of the body. Therefore, removing a symptomatic benign tumor is completely curative.

Cancerous (malignant) tumors, on the other hand, have undergone genetic changes that allow them to invade nearby surrounding structures. When a portion of the tumor breaks off and travels via the bloodstream or lymphatic system, to other parts of the body where it then grows an additional tumor, the tumor is said to have metastasized. Cancerous tumors can be harder to cure than benign tumors.

What is a Brain Tumor?

Primary brain tumors arise from cells such as neurons (nerve cells), glial cells, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes (support cells), lymphocytes (immune cells), or meningeal cells (form protective covering around the brain and spine).

Brain tumors don’t just form from brain tissue. The majority of the time, a brain tumor is not a primary brain tumor. Rather most are secondary brain tumors which is to reference origin of the tumor as being from outside of the brain. A secondary brain tumor most often arises because a tumor metastasized from the lungs, colon, or breast. Secondary brain tumors are always malignant. Therefore, the treatment of a secondary brain tumor also involves the treatment of the original cancer.

What is an Astrocytoma?

Astrocytomas are the second most common type of primary brain tumor in adults. These tumors result from genetic damage to the star-shaped support cell (glial cell) in the brain known as an astrocyte. An astrocytoma is also referred to as glioma . Approximately 15,000 new cases of astrocytoma are diagnosed in the US every year. Men are slightly more affected than women.

Astrocytomas are classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) according to their malignant behavior. Grade 1 tumors are benign but can cause damage by compressing surrounding brain structures. Grade 1 tumors are typically diagnosed in children and account for 2% of all brain tumors.

Grade 4 tumors or glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) are extremely malignant. They are typically diagnosed in individuals over the age of 50, accounting for 50% of all astrocytomas. A Grade 4 tumor accounts for 23% of all primary brain tumors.

Symptoms and Treatment of an Astrocytoma

An astrocytoma can present with headaches, especially in the morning, personality changes, altered mental status, nausea and vomiting, vision changes, speech difficulties, loss of balance, gait instability (ataxia), seizures, or weakness. Symptoms depend on the location of the tumor and the brain structures involved.

Fortunately, there have been rapid advances in the diagnosis and treatment of astrocytomas. The latest treatment results now are significantly better than they were only a few years ago. The treatment of an astrocytoma requires a team effort of multiple specialists involving a close coordination between the CNSO neurosurgeons, oncologists, radiation oncologists, physiatrists, and physical therapists.

NJ’s Only Comprehensive Facility to Provide Coordinated Treatment for an Astrocytoma of the Brain

The dedicated surgical and non-surgical team at Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine, and Orthopedics (CNSO) understand how the diagnosis of an astrocytoma can impact the lives of patients and their families. By working with the CNSO recognized top doctors, board-certified neurosurgeons, physiatrists, rehabilitation specialists, and certified physical therapists, patients can receive comprehensive and coordinated care and return back to a healthy lifestyle.

CNSO offers multiple convenient locations across northern New Jersey, including offices in Bergen, Passaic, Morris, Essex, and Hudson Counties. Northern NJ patients can learn more about effectively treating astrocytoma of the brain by contacting the doctors at CNSO today.

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