Pediatric Drugs

, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 167–178

Treatments for Astrocytic Tumors in Children

Current and Emerging Strategies


Therapy In Practice

DOI: 10.2165/00148581-200608030-00003

Cite this article as:
Burzynski, S.R. Pediatr-Drugs (2006) 8: 167. doi:10.2165/00148581-200608030-00003


Strategies for the treatment of childhood cancer have changed considerably during the last 50 years and have led to dramatic improvements in long-term survival. Despite these accomplishments, CNS tumors remain the leading cause of death in pediatric oncology. Astrocytic tumors form the most common histologic group among childhood brain tumors. They are a heterogeneous group that from a practical therapeutic point of view can be subdivided into low-grade astrocytomas (LGA), optic pathway gliomas (OPG), high-grade astrocytomas (HGA), and brainstem gliomas (BSG). This article focuses on the practical application of treatments that lead to long-term survival, improved quality of life, and reduced long-term complications.

Improvement in therapy has led to better outcomes for patients with LGA and OPG. Careful follow-up without any treatment is indicated for a small percentage of patients diagnosed with LGA with an indolent course including children with neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1). Surgery is the main recommended treatment for children with resectable LGA. Radiation therapy is generally recommended for children with progressive LGA, or after failure of chemotherapy, accomplishing tumor control at 10 years in over 60% of patients. Cytotoxic chemotherapy is usually reserved for children who have had treatment failure with surgery and radiation therapy. It is also offered for children who are too young to be treated with radiation or to defer or avoid radiotherapy. Carboplatin and vincristine achieve 5% complete and 28% partial responses but the use of vincristine is criticized due to poor penetration of the CNS. A regimen of tioguanine, procarbazine, mitolactol, lomustine, and vincristine is frequently administered as an alternative to carboplatin and vincristine in LGA. The introduction of temozolomide has allowed better responses, including a 24% complete response rate compared with 0–5% complete response rates with the previous regimens. OPG are usually histologically LGA, and are treated with similar chemotherapy regimens. OPG is the most common type of brain tumor associated with NF1. Tumor growth in some of these patients is slow with no treatment recommended for an extended period of time.

The prognosis for children with the remaining types of astrocytomas remains poor. Surgical resection is typically the first step in the treatment of HGA followed in older children by radiation therapy. The data regarding chemotherapy are mixed. Combination chemotherapy before or after radiation, including cisplatin, carmustine, cyclophosphamide, and vincristine or carboplatin, ifosfamide, cyclophosphamide, and etoposide has provided disappointing results. Clinical trials with temozolomide and agents directed against single targets have not shown substantially better results, but it is hoped that currently conducted studies will provide better outcomes. Diffuse intrinsic BSG are among the most difficult-to-treat brain tumors. Surgical treatment is not recommended for diffuse intrinsic BSG and standard radiation therapy is typically given in children aged >3 years. None of the numerous chemotherapy regimens, including temozolomide, has provided a significant response rate or an improvement in survival. It is expected that newer agents affecting multiple targets such as AEE-788 and antineoplastons, and combinations of single-targeted agents with chemotherapy will provide better results.

Careful evaluation of histology, location of the tumor, patient age, and consideration of treatment-related morbidity play an important part in selecting between clinical observation, surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or investigational agents. The goals of treatment for astrocytic tumors should extend well beyond objective responses and increased survival. Improvement of quality of life is an equally important objective of treatment. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy result in serious late toxicities.

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© Adis Data Information BV 2006