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Contributors: Andrea Wasilewski MD, Jamie Adams MD, Richard L. Barbano MD, PhD
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed


An astrocytoma is a brain or spinal cord tumor that arises from astrocytes, supportive cells of the central nervous system. Presenting symptoms depend on the tumor location and compression or invasion of surrounding brain tissue; these can include seizures, altered mental status, and focal neurologic deficits. Increased intracranial pressure may lead to nausea / vomiting, headache, or papilledema. Prognosis depends on the tumor grade. Low-grade tumors are more common in children, and high-grade tumors are more common in adults.

Grade IV astrocytomas are also known as glioblastoma multiforme.

Grade I pilocytic astrocytomas are the most common pediatric primary brain tumor. This type of astrocytoma often presents with hydrocephalus (eg, headache, altered mental status), ataxia, or gait disturbance. These tumors have an excellent prognosis and are treatable with neurosurgical resection only.

Low-grade diffuse astrocytomas commonly present with seizures in patients aged 30-50. Expected mortality is 2-10 years.

High-grade anaplastic astrocytomas present with seizures, focal neurologic deficits, and headaches, usually in patients aged 40-70. Many of these tumors progress to glioblastoma. Expected mortality is 2-5 years with maximal therapy.

Younger age and female sex are associated with improved survival.


C71.9 – Malignant neoplasm of brain, unspecified

55353007 – Astrocytoma, anaplastic

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Differential Diagnosis & Pitfalls

  • Brain stem glioma
  • Meningioma
  • Lymphoma
  • Oligodendroglioma
  • Metastatic tumor
  • Ependymoma
  • Primitive neuroectodermal tumor
  • Congenital cortical dysplasia / heterotopia
  • Brain abscess

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Last Reviewed:02/25/2018
Last Updated:02/25/2018
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A medical illustration showing key findings of Astrocytoma : Seizures, Headache, Nausea/vomiting, Mental status alteration, Hemiparesis
Copyright © 2024 VisualDx®. All rights reserved.