Childhood astrocytoma is a disease in which benign (noncancer) or malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the brain.
Astrocytomas are tumors that start in star-shaped brain cells called astrocytes. An astrocyte is a type of glial cell. Glial cells hold nerve cells in place and help them work the way they should. There are several types of astrocytomas. They can form anywhere in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).
Although cancer is rare in children, central nervous system (CNS) tumors are the most common type of childhood cancer after leukemia and lymphoma.
Information is included about the following tumors that form from glial cells:
- Glioblastoma multiforme.
Metastatic brain tumors are formed by cancer cells that begin in other parts of the body and spread to the brain.
Brain tumors can occur in both children and adults. However, treatment for children may be different than treatment for adults.
The central nervous system controls many important body functions.
Astrocytomas most commonly form in these parts of the central nervous system (CNS):
- Cerebrum: The largest part of the brain, at the top of the head. The cerebrum controls thinking, learning, problem-solving, speech, emotions, reading, writing, and voluntary movement.
- Cerebellum: The lower, back part of the brain (near the middle of the back of the head). The cerebellum controls movement, balance, and posture.
- Brain stem: The part that connects the brain to the spinal cord, in the lowest part of the brain (just above the back of the neck). The brain stem controls breathing, heart rate, and the nerves and muscles used in seeing, hearing, walking, talking, and eating.
- Hypothalamus: The area in the middle of the base of the brain that controls body temperature, hunger, and thirst.
- Visual pathway: The group of nerves that connect the eye with the brain.
- Spinal cord: The column of nerve tissue that runs from the brain stem down the center of the back. It is covered by three thin layers of tissue called membranes. The spinal cord and membranes are surrounded by the vertebrae (back bones). Spinal cord nerves carry messages between the brain and the rest of the body, such as a signal from the brain to cause muscles to move or from the skin to the brain for the sense of touch.