Astrocytoma is a tumor that begins in the brain or spinal cord through small, star-shaped cells (astrocytes) that support nerve cells. Astrocytomas range from very slow-growing, treatable tumors to glioblastoma, the most aggressive type of astrocytoma that grows and spreads rapidly.
Signs You Should Get Help for Astrocytoma
Like most brain tumors, astrocytoma symptoms vary depending on the tumor’s type, size and location, but may include the following:
- Loss of balance
- Personality changes
- Vomiting and nausea
- Weakness or sensory loss on one side of the body
- Memory or language problems
- Blind spots in your field of vision
You should seek emergency care for any sudden and severe symptoms. Otherwise, make an appointment with your doctor and share your concerns.
Astrocytoma Treatment at Rush
We believe that good communication with our trusted team of brain cancer experts is key to developing your personalized treatment plan. Our multidisciplinary team includes neuro-oncologists, neurosurgeons, radiation oncologists and nurse navigators who will guide you through diagnosis, treatment and beyond — always making your quality of life a top priority.
Your treatment plan may include one or more of the following treatments:
- Steroids: You may be given steroids or other drugs to relieve your symptoms. To avoid long-term side effects from these medications, we rapidly taper the amount of steroids patients take.
- Surgery: Using the latest approaches, neurosurgeons can remove astrocytomas once considered inoperable. Advances in brain mapping — including intraoperative cortical stimulation mapping — prevent unnecessary damage.
- Radiation therapy: When treating a brain tumor, Rush’s radiation therapy team may use one of these following methods — always careful to spare the hippocampus and other critical parts of the brain:
- Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS): A nonsurgical radiation therapy, SRS is used to treat small, well-defined brain tumors. The TrueBeam STx system delivers a single high dose of radiation to the tumor, which reduces treatment time and minimizes damage to healthy surrounding tissue.
- Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT): These systems (TomoTherapy Hi-Art or Varian Trilogy) help Rush radiation therapists visualize a tumor and deliver radiation more precisely. IGRT can adjust for changes in the patient's position as well as tumor changes throughout treatment.
- Drug therapy: Neuro-oncologists may recommend various cancer-fighting drugs including:
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses drugs to speed up the death of cancer cells or stop them from duplicating. Rush is involved in clinical trials testing new chemotherapy approaches for brain tumors.
- Targeted, or directed, therapy: Using genomic tests, we can identify molecular mutations in tumors and recommend drugs that specifically attack those mutations. Because these drugs are less likely to affect noncancerous cells, they tend to cause fewer side effects.
- Immunotherapy: These drugs help the body’s immune system attack cancer cells or use antibodies against certain proteins on the cancer cell. Vaccines are in this category. These promising treatments can help some patients with astrocytomas.
- Tumor treating fields (TTF): This newer therapy involves wearing a cap that delivers low-intensity electrical energy to the brain. This treatment inhibits microtubules (structural proteins) in cancer cells that help them divide and multiple.
Rush Excellence in Astrocytoma Care
- Nationally ranked experts: U.S. News and World Report ranked the neurosurgery and neurology programs at Rush University Medical Center No. 4 in the nation and its cancer program among the best in the U.S.
- Pioneering treatment and leading research: At Rush, you will have access to advanced treatments you might not find elsewhere as part of new clinical trials. For example, researchers are studying whether an experimental vaccine can help patients’ immune systems stop the spread of glioblastoma — the most aggressive form of astrocytoma with very few current treatment options.
- A team of experts focused on you: Our multidisciplinary team of neuro-oncologists, neurosurgeons, radiation oncologists and a nurse navigator work together and with you to determine the best course of treatment for your astrocytoma through diagnosis, treatment and beyond — always making your quality of life a top priority. You will be seen by the entire team within a few days of your call.
- Care for the whole person —and your family: The Rush University Cancer Center's cancer supportive care offers many resources to help you and your family cope with the physical and emotional effects of astrocytoma. Social workers, therapists, nutritionists, integrative medicine specialists, chaplains and patient navigators are all available to support you through your treatment and beyond.
- Expert second opinions: If you're looking to confirm your astrocytoma diagnosis and fully explore all your potential treatment options, we encourage you to consult with our second opinion services.