Definition: Astrocytomas are tumors that arise from astrocytes, cells in the brain that support and insulate nerve cells. Anaplastic astrocytomas are classified as grade III by the World Health Organization. They can transform from a grade II astrocytoma or arise from the astrocytes directly as a grade III astrocytoma. They tend to grow more quickly than low-grade astrocytomas. The goal of treatment is to decrease symptoms and slow the progression of the tumor as much as possible. An anaplastic astrocytoma can transform into a grade IV astrocytoma (also called a "glioblastoma multiforme").
Symptoms: The most common symptoms of an anaplastic astrocytoma are headaches and changes in behavior. Other symptoms depend on the location of the tumor. Seizures may also occur.
Evaluation: Anaplastic astrocytomas are evaluated with MRI scans.
- Surgery: Surgery is recommended to obtain a sample of the tumor to confirm the diagnosis and to remove as much of the tumor as possible without causing significant neurological problems. It is impossible to surgically remove all of the tumor since it mixes in with normal brain tissue. A biopsy may be all that is possible if the tumor is located in a critical part of the brain where removal may cause serious neurological damage.
- Radiation: Focal fractionated radiation therapy is usually recommended and started two to four weeks after surgery.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is usually started at the same time as radiation.
Follow-up: Long-term close follow-up with regular MRI scans is recommended to watch for tumor growth or transformation to a higher grade.