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An astrocytoma is a cancer of the brain that is found within brain cells called astrocytes. Astrocytes are glial cells that are located within the brain and the spinal cord. These cells provide nutrients to the nervous system, maintain ion balance, and help to repair the brain and spinal cord following any massive injury.
The World Health Organization has devised a rating system for astrocytoma that is commonly used throughout the world. This system ranges from 1-4 with 4 being the most threatening type of astrocytoma. Grade 4, glioblastoma multiforme astrocytoma, is the most common type found in adults. Most adults that are diagnosed with this type of brain cancer do not live for more than three years.
In order to diagnose astrocytoma, a CT scan must be administered in conjunction with an MRI. These two tests can accurately determine the size, shape, and location of a brain tumor. Once this has been estimated, doctors will likely delve into a patient's family history followed by an eye exam and a neurological exam.
When a tumor has been discovered, a neurosurgeon is often called to perform a biopsy. This biopsy will help doctors to grade the tumor based on the World Health Organization system mentioned above. Tumors that rank on the lower end of the astrocytoma scale can often be removed effectively. This will allow a person to live for many years following initial diagnosis.
High grade tumors may be initially removed, but these tumors often return after surgery. Thus, high grade tumors are treated on an individual basis as they appear. Patients that have been diagnosed with a high grade tumor must be carefully observed over an extended period of time. Even though low grade tumors can be eliminated, most patients do not live more than five years.
To date, there is no cure for astrocytoma. Instead, most medical attention is focused on palliative care. This type of care is more concerned with reducing any tumor symptoms. Palliative care does not seek to cure, stop, or halt any medical ailment. Presently, there is no known way to prevent a brain tumor from occurring.
Vomiting, nausea, headache, loss of balance, personality changes, and weight changes can all be symptoms of a brain tumor. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek medical attention right away. Frequently, brain tumors that are left untreated cannot be removed in any manner. Only a qualified medical doctor can diagnose a brain tumor, and grade the aggressiveness of a tumor accurately.