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What are astrocytomas?

About one third of all brain tumours diagnosed in the UK are astrocytomas and they can be any grade.

Astrocytomas are the most common type of primary (meaning a tumour that originates in the rather than spreading from somewhere else in the body) glioma (meaning a tumour that grows from a glial cell). 

They grow from astrocytes, which are the most abundant type of cell in the brain. Astrocytes support and protect the neurons in your brain. They also help pass messages between neurons, making astrocytes vital for processing information in the brain.

Types of astrocytoma

Pilocytic astrocytomas

Grade one astrocytomas are known as pilocytic astrocytomas. They’re slow-growing, relatively contained and unlikely to spread to other parts of the brain. 

Pilocytic astrocytomas tend to grow in the cerebellum, which controls balance. They can also occur in the optic pathways, which are involved in sight.

They are unlikely to return after being surgically removed. 

Diffuse astrocytoma

Most grade two astrocytomas are known as diffuse astrocytomas because their edges aren’t well-defined. This can make them more difficult to remove completely.

Diffuse astrocytomas are slow-growing, but can sometimes return after treatment as a grade three astrocytoma.
Anaplastic astrocytomas

Grade three astrocytomas are also known as anaplastic astrocytomas. They are fast-growing and often referred to as malignant or cancerous. 

A grade three astrocytoma will often recur in a more advanced form following treatment.


Grade four astrocytomas are usually called glioblastoma, but you may hear them called glioblastoma multiforme or GBM for short.

Astrocytoma symptoms

Some of the common symptoms associated with astrocytomas are:

  • tiredness
  • headaches
  • blurred vision
  • double vision
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • seizures
  • balance problems

Get your free brain tumour information pack

Our FREE Brain Tumour Information Pack has been designed to help you through this difficult time, to guide you through the healthcare system, answer your questions, and reassure you that you’re not alone so that you feel confident when discussing treatment and care options with your medical team.

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