A pilocytic astrocytoma is a brain tumor that originates from
star-shaped cells called astrocytes. Astrocytes are a kind of glial cell, cells
that support and nourish neurons in the brain.
An astrocytoma is a type of glioma. Pilocytic astrocytomas are low-grade gliomas—a family of slow-growing
tumors that arise from glial cells. They are the most benign and most treatable
of the gliomas, with a cure rate of over over 90 percent.
Children and adolescents with glioma are treated at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s through the Brain Tumor Center's Glioma Program, one of the largest and most experienced pediatric glioma programs in the world.
Our glioma specialists—a team of neuro-oncologists, surgeons, pathologists and radiation oncologists—focus solely on the care of children diagnosed with gliomas. The Glioma Program also offers families the chance to have their child's tumor molecularly profiled (as long as a biopsy can be taken), which may help identify opportunities for targeted treatment.
Continue reading to learn more about pediatric gliomas: read our overview of childhood brain tumors, or visit our Glioma Program page to learn about our expertise and treatment options.
As a pilocytic astrocytoma grows, it presses on surrounding healthy
parts of the brain, affecting their function. As such, the symptoms of a
pediatric pilocytic astrocytoma depend on the tumor's size and where in the
brain it is located.
Some of the most common symptoms of a pediatric pilocytic
Because these tumors grow
so slowly, children may experience symptoms for months before seeing a doctor.
However, in some children, symptoms come on very quickly because the tumor
blocks the flow of cerebrospinal fluid—a liquid that cushions the brain and
spinal cord—within the brain.
To diagnose a pediatric pilocytic astrocytoma, your doctor will
take your child's medical history and carry out both physical and neurological
exams. Your doctor may also order a variety of tests, including:
After all tests are
completed, doctors will be able to outline the best treatment options.
Our treatment approach for pediatric gliomas is personalized
for each patient depending on several factors, including the tumor's type,
stage and location. Some therapies will treat the tumor while others are
intended to address complications of the disease or side effects of the
In addition, our clinicians may offer access to targeted
on the molecular profile of your child's tumor.
Some of the options your doctor may discuss include:
For pilocytic astrocytomas, often surgery is the only
We also offer innovative brain tumor clinical trials for
children with pilocytic astrocytomas. Some have been launched by our own physicians, while others are available through our participation in collaborative groups such as the Children's Oncology Group (COG) and the Pacific Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Consortium (PNOC).
Should you have questions or need advice on whether a particular trial would be appropriate for your child, email our clinical trials team at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can help you navigate your options.
Research is a top priority at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's, and our physicians work continuously to translate laboratory findings into clinical therapies and find ways to improve survival while reducing the toxicity and long-term impact of treatment.
For instance, a 2014 study led by Peter Manley, MD, documented the excellent long-term survival among patients with low-grade gliomas and the negative impact of radiation therapy—long a mainstay of pediatric brain tumor treatment—on that survival.
The Glioma Program's research enterprise mirrors its clinical efforts in its multidisciplinary nature. Basic, translational and clinical scientists in the program work together and with colleagues at institutions like the Broad Institute to uncover new knowledge about the biology of gliomas and translate that understanding into new therapies or ways of overcoming resistance to existing ones.
Dana-Farber/Boston Children's houses the Pediatric Low-grade Astrocytoma (PLGA) Program, the world's only multidisciplinary clinical and research program dedicated to pediatric low-grade gliomas. Established in 2007 with support from the PLGA Foundation, the program takes a multifaceted approach to finding more effective, less toxic treatments and a cure for children battling brain tumors, and has become the standard bearer for the research and care of pediatric brain tumors. Our pediatric neuro-oncologists, including Mark Kieran, MD, PhD, clinical director of the Brain Tumor Center at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's, and Pratiti (Mimi) Bandopadhayay, MBBS, PhD, are actively contributing to these efforts. Our program has contributed to international research efforts that have identified genomic drivers that contribute to growth of pilocytic astrocytoma. Specifically, we have identified genes that are commonly mutated in pilocytic astrocytoma. These findings are guiding clinical trials examining the activity of new drugs specifically for children with pilocytic astrocytoma.
It’s possible that your child will be eligible to participate in one of the Glioma Program’s current brain tumor clinical trials. In addition to launching our own clinical trials, we also offer trials available through collaborative groups such as the Children's Oncology Group (COG) and the Pacific Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Consortium (PNOC).
Mark Kieran, MD, PhD, provides a one-hour presentation for parents on latest approaches to treating brain tumors; sponsored by American Brain Tumor Association.