Treatment options for astrocytic tumors depend on the patient’s health and the grade and position of the tumor, as well as the results of diagnostic tests. Patients with intracranial pressure need to have this pressure addressed before treatment begins. This is often done through steroids to reduce swelling around the tumor. A shunt may also be inserted into the brain to drain excess cerebrospinal fluid. Patients who experience tremors may be given anticonvulsant medications.
Treatments for astrocytic tumors usually involve surgery, which seeks to remove as much of the tumor as possible without damaging the surrounding brain tissue. Grade I tumors in the cerebellum can often be completely removed by surgery, while grade II and higher-grade tumors often require radiation therapy and sometimes chemotherapy following surgery. In some cases, the tumors can’t be removed by therapy because the risk of damage to surrounding brain cells is too great.
A procedure called gamma knife therapy enables surgeons to deliver radiation directly to the brain tumor without making any incisions into the brain or opening up the skull. These patients receive lower doses of radiation, so they aren’t subjected to the side effects often associated with radiation therapy. Doctors usually use this therapy for tumors smaller than four centimeters; it can stop tumors from growing in 90 to 95 percent of cases, and in a majority of cases it actually causes tumors to shrink, a process that can take between a week and a year.