Astrocytoma - Childhood: Stages and Grades

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 09/2023

ON THIS PAGE: You will learn about how doctors describe astrocytoma’s growth or spread. This is called the stage or grade. Use the menu to see other pages.


What is staging?

Staging is a way of describing where a tumor is located, if or where it has spread, and whether it is affecting other parts of the body. Several types of childhood central nervous system (CNS) tumors can spread through the spinal fluid that surrounds the brain and the spine. This information helps the doctor recommend the best kind of treatment and helps predict the child's prognosis, which is the chance of recovery.

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In addition to staging, doctors also describe astrocytoma by its grade. The grade describes how much tumor cells look like healthy cells when viewed under a microscope.

The doctor compares the tumor tissue with healthy tissue. Healthy tissue usually contains many different types of cells grouped together. If the tumor tissue looks similar to healthy tissue and has different cell groupings, it is called "differentiated" or a "low-grade tumor." If the tumor tissue looks very different from healthy tissue, it is called "poorly differentiated" or a "high-grade tumor." The tumor’s grade may help the doctor predict how quickly it will spread. In general, the lower the tumor’s grade, the better the prognosis.

The grades of astrocytoma are:

  • Low-grade tumor. A low-grade tumor has cells that look similar to healthy CNS cells under a microscope. The tumor usually does not grow quickly or spread to other parts of the CNS. However, the tumor can sometimes grow and spread quickly. Tumors may appear in multiple spots in the brain, especially when the disease is linked with neurofibromatosis (see Risk Factors). Common low-grade tumors in children include juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma (JPA) and diffuse astrocytoma.

  • High-grade tumor. A high-grade tumor has cells that do not look similar to healthy astrocytes. This type of tumor grows quickly and can spread throughout the CNS. Anaplastic astrocytoma is considered a high-grade tumor.

  • Recurrent astrocytoma. Recurrent astrocytoma is a tumor that has come back after treatment. If it returns, astrocytoma usually recurs near where it first started. If the tumor comes back, there will be another round of tests to learn about the extent of the recurrence. These tests and scans are often similar to those done at the time of the original diagnosis.

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Information about the tumor’s grade and stage will help the doctor recommend a specific treatment plan. The next section in this guide is Types of Treatment. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.