Thalamic Astrocytoma and Hypothalamic Astrocytoma Symptoms & Causes

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What is a thalamic or hypothalamic astrocytoma?

These pediatric brain tumors (also called gilomas) arise in the thalamus and the hypothalamus. The thalamus is a deep-lying central part of the brain responsible for identification of sensation, such as temperature, pain and touch; it is also the relay center for movement. The hypothalamus is the area just below the thalamus, responsible for hormone functioning, body temperature, sleep and appetite. Sometimes an astrocytoma can invade both areas—sometimes only one. “Low-grade” tumors are slow-growing and less aggressive than high-grade (malignant) tumors.

How are thalamic/hypothalamic astrocytomas classified?

An important part of diagnosing a brain tumor involves staging and classifying the disease, which will help your child’s doctor determine treatment options and prognosis. Staging is the process of determining whether the tumor has spread and if so, how far.

There are four “grades” of astrocytomas. Ordered from least to most aggressive, they are:

  • Low-grade gliomas
    • grade I (pilocytic)
    • grade II (fibrillary)
  • High-grade glioma
    • grade III (anaplastic)
    • grade IV (glioblastoma multiforme)

Thalamic/hypothalamic astrocytomas are usually classified as grade I or grade II tumors.

What causes thalamic/hypothalamic astrocytomas?

While research has shown that there is a link between some types of low-grade astrocytomas (including thalamic/hypothalamic astrocytomas) and certain genetic diseases, specifically neurofibromatosis I and tuberous sclerosis, these tumors most often have no known cause. There’s nothing that you could have done or avoided doing that would have prevented these tumors from developing.

What are the symptoms of thalamic/hypothalamic astrocytomas?

Since thalamic/hypothalamic astrocytomas grow relatively slowly, your child may have been having symptoms for many months by the time she is diagnosed, or symptoms may appear more suddenly.

Many children with thalamic/hypothalamic astrocytomas have symptoms related to increased pressure in the brain, including:

  • headache (generally upon waking in the morning)
  • nausea and vomiting (often worse in the morning and improving throughout the day)
  • fatigue
  • weakness on one side of the body

Other symptoms your child may show include:

  • symptoms of hormone imbalance (weight loss/gain, symptoms of salt and water imbalance in the body such as retaining water or swelling or frequent urination)
  • changes in vision (since the thalamus and hypothalamus are found close to the nerves that carry visual signals with the brain)

Keep in mind that these symptoms may resemble other, more common conditions or medical problems. If you don’t have a diagnosis and are concerned, always consult your child's physician.

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