The prognosis for patients with astrocytic tumors depends on the grade of the tumor. Grade I tumors, called pilocytic astrocytomas, are uncommon in adults and can usually effectively treated with surgery. Between 10 percent of 20 percent of these cancers, however, can spread and become aggressive. Patients diagnosed with these cancers need regular follow-up care after their initial treatment to make sure the cancer doesn’t return.
Grade II tumors, called astrocytomas, tend to grow slowly and can often be treated by surgery. While surgeons remove as much of the tumor as they see, tumor cells are nearly always left behind, so it’s necessary to treat these tumors with radiation therapy or chemotherapy. The median survival time after diagnosis for patients with this type of tumor is five to seven years.
Grade III and grade IV tumors are more aggressive, and grade IV tumors are the most common primary brain tumors. For grade III tumors, the median survival time is two years; for grade IV tumors it’s one year.
Astrocytomas in children often occur in the hypothalamus and brain stem, structures near the base of the brain that control appetite, heart rate, breathing, sleep cycles, eye movements, speech and swallowing. Surgery is usually not an option, because these tumors grow in parts of the brain crucial for life, so treatment most often involves radiation therapy and sometimes chemotherapy.