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Pilocytic astrocytomas are cystic type brain tumors. Juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma refers to this type of brain tumor when it is found in a child. They are considered more common in children under the age of 12. These tumors typically affect the optic nerve and the cerebellum. Children who have a juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma generally have an excellent chance for recovery if they receive prompt treatment.
Juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma belongs to a category of brain tumor known as a primary glioma. Gliomas are cells in the brain that affect the central nervous system. They account for the large majority of all brain tumors found in both children and adults. Glioma type tumors are usually malignant, but are not a type of cancer.
Children who suffer from juvenile pilocytic astrocytomas may exhibit a wide variety of symptoms, depending on where in the brain the tumor is located. Tumors in or around the optic nerve would typically cause problems with vision, headaches, and bulging around the eyes. Tumors in the cerebellum might cause vomiting, dizziness, and equilibrium disorders. In some cases, children could have more severe symptoms such as epileptic type seizures, loss of memory, and mood swings.
Once a child is found to have a juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma, there are generally two methods of treatment. The most common treatment is surgery to remove the tumor. Sometimes, the tumor may be located in an area of the brain that makes surgery difficult or dangerous. In these instances, radiation therapy is typically used. Both surgery and radiation are usually successful in eliminating a juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma.
If the tumor is very small, it may pose no serious or immediate threat, and the child’s doctor may decide not to treat the tumor at all. In these cases, the tumor and the child’s overall health would be carefully monitored. If the child began exhibiting serious symptoms or if changes in the size or density of the tumor were noted, treatment would typically be initiated.
The prognosis for complete recovery from a juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma is usually very good, however, in some cases children could become severely impaired. If the tumor remains undiscovered or if treatment is delayed, blindness, paralysis or even death could occur. Most doctors agree that more research is needed to enable them to better diagnose and treat juvenile pilocytic astrocytoma. Medical research is believed to be limited because most funding is devoted to studying cancerous tumors.