A grade II astrocytoma, sometimes known as a low-grade astrocytoma, is a type of cancerous tumor, or malignant neoplasm, that develops from cells called astrocytes inside the brain or spinal cord. Astrocytes are shaped like stars and, as part of a group known as glial cells, their function is to support nerve cells. A tumor that grows from glial cells is called a glioma, and astrocytomas are the most frequently occurring type of glioma. Astrocytomas may be graded on a scale of I to IV, and may be classed as high-grade or low-grade. A grade II astrocytoma, being low-grade, will tend to grow more slowly and is less likely to spread to other parts of the body compared with a high-grade tumor.
Symptoms of a grade II astrocytoma depend on the area of the brain in which the tumor is located, but may include seizures, changes in behavior, visual or speech problems, or weakness of a limb. Most often, astrocytomas grow from the main part of the brain, or cerebrum. Symptoms may develop gradually or, sometimes, the tumor blocks the circulation of fluid that surrounds the brain, leading to a sudden rise in the pressure inside the skull. As a result of the increased intracranial pressure, vomiting, headaches and visual disturbances may be experienced.
Diagnosing a grade II astrocytoma normally requires an MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging scan. Sometimes a CT, or computerized tomography, scan may be used instead. The patient's eyes may be examined to look for signs of swelling in the brain. In some cases an operation may be carried out to remove a sample of cells from the tumor, so they can be examined under a microscope. If the pressure inside the skull is higher than normal, this will need to be reduced before any further procedures are performed.
Treating a grade II astrocytoma usually involves carrying out a surgical procedure to remove the tumor as fully as possible. Sometimes it may be difficult to cut out all of the tumor depending on its size and the exact location, and other treatments such as radiotherapy may be used to destroy the remaining tumor tissue. Occasionally, radiotherapy may be used instead of surgery if the tumor is unreachable, or if there is a risk that surgery would damage part of the brain. The outlook for a grade II astrocytoma is better if most of the tumor can be removed, but even partial removal can help to improve symptoms.