Anaplastic Astrocytomas | Diagnosis & Treatment

How are anaplastic astrocytoma diagnosed?

Anaplastic astrocytomas are diagnosed using a combination of tests including:

  • physical examination, including neurologic function tests of reflexes, muscle strength, eye and mouth movement, coordination and alertness
  • computerized tomography scan (CT or CAT scan) to capture a which detailed view of the body and to assess the density of tumor tissue versus normal brain
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body and/or spine
  • magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), which is done along with MRI to detect the presence of particular organic compounds produced by the body’s metabolism
  • biopsy to collection of a tissue sample either through a needle or during surgery performed by a pediatric neurosurgeon to confirm the diagnosis

What are the treatment options for anaplastic astrocytoma?

The primary treatment for newly diagnosed anaplastic astrocytoma is maximal surgical removal, when possible, followed by radiation therapy. To date, no chemotherapy regimen has been demonstrated to increase survival in pediatric high-grade gliomas.

As with all pediatric cancers, care should be delivered at a specialized center where multidisciplinary teams can provide not only expert diagnostics and experienced medical, surgical and radiation oncologists, but also psychosocial support, neuro-psychological testing and specialized school plans all delivered in a child- and family-sensitive and friendly environment.

Anaplastic astrocytoma treatment may include (alone or in combination):

  • Neurosurgery: The first treatment is usually surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible, ideally using advanced techniques to maximize tumor removal, such as intraoperative MRI (in which surgeons can visualize the tumor as they operate). Complete resection, or surgical removal, of the entire tumor is ideal when possible, though most high-grade gliomas cannot be completely removed because they tend to infiltrate into adjacent healthy tissues. In general, the more completely the tumor can be removed, the greater the chances for survival.
  • Radiation: High-energy waves from a specialized machine damage or shrink tumors. Your child also may receive precisely targeted and dosed radiation to kill cancer cells left behind after surgery. This is important to control the local growth of tumor, and it helps increase survival in high-grade gliomas.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy refers to drugs that interfere with the cancer cells' ability to grow or reproduce. To date, no chemotherapy regimen has been demonstrated to increase survival rates in children with GBM, though chemotherapy before surgery may help shrink the tumor, making it possible to remove. A variety of chemotherapy regimens have been tested in the treatment of newly diagnosed high-grade gliomas, and some have produced responses but none have improved survival. Studies in adults have suggested that certain drugs can produce modest responses in high-grade gliomas, but they have less effect in children. High-intensity chemotherapy in conjunction with a stem cell transplant also does not seem to improve chances of survival.

What is the long-term outlook for anaplastic astrocytoma?

Unfortunately, the prognosis for anaplastic astrocytoma remains poor. In general, more complete surgical removal of the tumor, when possible, results in greater chance of survival. Your child’s doctor will discuss treatment options with you, including experimental clinical trials and supportive care.

For children with relapsed anaplastic astrocytomas, we offer access to the latest clinical trials and experimental therapies. Current trials include novel medications, as well as new methods for the delivery of more traditional agents. Our Pediatric Advanced Care Team (PACT) is available to provide supportive treatments intended to optimize your child’s quality of life and promote comfort and healing for children with life-threatening illnesses. In addition, PACT can provide psychosocial support and help arrange end-of-life care, when necessary.

Children successfully treated for anaplastic astrocytoma should visit a cancer survivorship clinic yearly to manage disease complications, screen for recurrence and manage late treatment side effects. A typical follow-up visit is likely to include a physical exam, laboratory testing and imaging scans.

Through our Stop & Shop Family Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Outcomes Clinic, children are able to meet with their neurosurgeon, radiation oncologist, pediatric neuro-oncologist and neurologists at the same follow-up visit. Our multidisciplinary approach and depth of expertise will give your child on-site access to endocrinologists, neuro-psychologists and alternative/complementary therapy specialists. School liaison and psychosocial personnel from the pediatric brain tumor team are also available. In addition, children needing rehabilitation may meet with speech, physical, and occupational therapists during and after their visit.