What is Astrocytoma of the Spine?

Spine MRI for Spine Tumor Detection

Spinal tumors are abnormal growths that could develop in the spinal cord, the surrounding tissue, or within the spine bones called vertebrae. Tumor growth occurs when normal cells produce abnormal or cancerous cells that begin to rapidly reproduce other abnormal cells Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine & Orthopedics can detect tumor growth, explain the medical condition, then provide support and treatment.

Spinal tumors are divided into four types depending on their location: intradural, intramedullary, extramedullary, and vertebral bone tumors. Intradural tumors are located within the dura which is the thin tissue that covers the spinal cord. In the tumor is within the spinal cord, it is called intramedullary. If the spine tumor in within the dura but not in the spinal cord, it is referred to as an extramedullary tumor. Meningiomas are always intradural extramedullary tumors. Vertebral tumors develop within one or more of the vertebral bones of the spine. Often vertebral tumors are a secondary metastatic tumor site which means the initial tumor formed in a different organ then traveled to the spinal bone.

An astrocytoma of the spine is an intramedullary type of spine tumor that grows from the glial cells of the spinal cord. Thus, it is within the category of glioma tumors. The glial cells normally form into several types of cells and the astrocyte is an example of a cell type derived from the glial cell. Astrocytes are a star-shaped support cell that exist throughout the brain and spinal cord. An astrocytoma can also form in the brain as well as the spine.

Types of Astrocytomas

Astrocytomas can be divided into two major groups: slow-growing (e.g., pilocytic astrocytoma, pleomorphic xanthoastrocytoma) and aggressively growing or infiltrating (e.g., diffuse astrocytoma, anaplastic astrocytoma, glioblastoma). Most spinal astrocytomas are low grade meaning they do not grow or spread rapidly.

While astrocytoma of the spine may develop in adults or children, a spinal astrocytoma is the most common pediatric spinal cord tumor, accounting for approximately 60% of all intramedullary tumors.

Causes and Symptoms of Astrocytomas

A tumor of the spine is a fairly uncommon diagnosis. The annual incidence of spinal tumors in the United States is 0.97 cases per 100,000 population. Of all the spinal tumors diagnosed each year, an astrocytoma of the spine is the second most common occurring in 6% to 8% of all spinal cord tumors. In terms of the prevalence of intramedullary tumors, astrocytomas represents 40% of all intramedullary tumors.

As is the case with most primary spine neoplasms, experts have not discovered an exact cause of the unregulated abnormal cell growth. It is suspected that factors such as ionizing radiation exposure and some rare genetic conditions can play a role.

The most common presenting symptoms of an astrocytoma of the spine are persistent back pain along with one sided sensory and motor weakness of one or both extremities. The specific symptoms depend on the location of the tumor. If any symptoms begin to reveal themselves, a patient should be further evaluated by a neurosurgeon or a neurologist expediently because the presenting symptoms could also be other urgent medical conditions.  Examples are a herniated disc, a pinched nerve a different  type of spinal tumor such as an ependymoma or non-spine related urgent conditions such as a brain tumor, brain or spine abscess, or stroke.

To provide an accurate diagnosis and differentiate astrocytoma of the spine from other medical conditions, such as spinal epidural abscess, or other type of spine tumor, such as meningioma, a team of specialists  including CNSO neurosurgeons and orthopedic spine surgeons would perform a complete history, physical examination, neurologic evaluation, and personally review all imaging studies themselves, not just read the radiologist’s report, to identify the location and extent of the disease.

NJ’s Only Comprehensive Facility for Assessment and Treatment for Astrocytoma of the Spine

The dedicated surgical and non-surgical team at Centers for Neurosurgery, Spine, and Orthopedics (CNSO) understands how the concern and treatment of a spinal tumor can impact daily life. CNSO has recognized board-certified neurosurgeons, pain management doctors, physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists, physiatrists, and certified physical therapists, working together at each location to provide comprehensive and coordinated care. CNSO patients resume a healthy, pain free lifestyle with the treatment they receive. CNSO offers multiple convenient locations spanning from Passaic County to Morris County and nearby towns including Clifton, Jersey City, and Parsippany, NJ. Patients can learn more about effectively treating astrocytoma of the spine by contacting the doctors at CNSO today.

Centers for Neurosurgery Spine & Orthopedics