A pilocytic astrocytoma is a tumor that is usually found in the brain, although they can also occur in the spinal cord.
They are benign, slow-growing tumors often associated with the formation of a cyst that can get quite large. They are mostly seen in younger people between the ages of five and fourteen years of age.
Approximately two in every 100,000 people are diagnosed with pilocytic astrocytoma. They are also called pilocytic astrocytoma, juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma and cystic cerebellar astrocytoma.
Signs & Symptoms
Pilocytic astrocytoma signs and symptoms include things like loss of appetite, headaches, vomiting, and visual complaints. Pilocytic astrocytoma can be so large that they cause pressure in the brain. Children who suffer from this often have trouble thriving and growing normally until the tumor is diagnosed and treated.
Pilocytic astrocytoma is diagnosed using scans such as an MRI or CAT scan. A special dye is injected prior to the scan that makes the tumor very easy to see. A biopsy of the cells can be done right away or sometimes it is done during surgery if there is not immediate threat. Like many cancers pilocytic astrocytoma is classified by different stages depending upon factors such as the location, severity and size of the tumor.
Surgery is generally the first line of treatment for pilocytic astrocytoma. Unfortunately in some cases not all of the tumor can be safely removed if healthy tissue is also in the way. Since it is such a slow growing tumor some doctors choose the “watch and wait” treatment, although with this they run the risk of the tumor becoming less operable if they don’t catch it at the right time.
Due to the young age of most patients suffering from pilocytic astrocytoma many doctors try to avoid radiation and chemotherapy treatments. Although these can help avoid future cancers they can also damage young developing cells.
Approximately 90% of patients who have their tumor completely removed go on to live a normal and healthy life. That figure drops to 45% in cases where the tumor could not be 100% removed.
The earlier a pilocytic astrocytoma is removed the better the prognosis. If it can be 100% removed without damaging healthy cells then the patient has the best chance of a full recovery.