Astrocytoma – Grades III and IV


Astrocytomas are a type of tumor that affects the brain. These tumors arise from astrocytes, which are a type of cell found in the brain. These cells make up the supportive tissue of the brain. Astrocytomas can form in the cerebellum, cerebrum, central areas of the brain, brain stem, and the spinal cord.

Astrocytomas are classified as grades I through IV based on the appearance of the cells and level of malignancy.

  • Grade I astrocytomas usually do not spread and are slow growing. Grade I is considered to be the least malignant of the astrocytomas, and total remission and long-term survival with surgery is possible.
  • Grade II astrocytomas tend to invade the surrounding tissue and grow faster than grade I, but still grow at a relatively slow pace. Treatment is more complicated than grade I, and recurrence is relatively common.
  • Grade III astrocytomas are malignant and are referred to as anaplastic astrocytomas. They are quite rare and are more aggressive, requiring more aggressive treatment than grades I or II. Grade III astrocytomas frequently recur.
  • Grade IV astrocytoma is referred to as glioblastoma and is the most malignant of the astrocytomas. Because it is so aggressive, complete surgical removal is not possible, and long term survival is rare. There are 2 types of grade IV astrocytomas—primary, or de novo and secondary. Primary, or de novo astrocytomas are very aggressive and the most common of this type. They grow and spread to the other parts of the brain quickly and can often become quite advanced before producing any symptoms. Secondary astrocytomas are astrocytomas that started as a lower grade tumor and evolved to a grade IV.

General information

Astrocytomas can occur in any demographic, but each grade most frequently affects a different age range. Grade I astrocytomas occur most often in children and teens, grade II astrocytomas occur most often in adults between 20 and 40 years of age, grade III astrocytomas occur most often in adults between 30 and 50 years of age, and grade IV astrocytomas occur most often in adults between 50 and 80 years of age.

Because astrocytomas can affect different parts of the brain and spinal cord, symptoms can vary. Symptoms can include: headaches, seizures, memory loss, changes in behavior, vision changes, balance issues, nausea and vomiting.

Astrocytomas are diagnosed using blood tests and imaging such as MRI, CT, and PET and SPECT scans. Additional tests may be ordered to determine how advanced the tumor is or to rule out other diagnoses.

Treatment varies depending on the grade and location of the tumor, and can include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

Because symptoms vary and can be explained by other medical conditions, any medical questions you may have should be directed to your doctor. Because treatment modalities differ depending on the age of the patient and characteristics of the tumor, any questions regarding treatment should also be directed to your doctor.

Social Security Administration POMS DI 23022.110 Astrocytoma – Grade III and IV

The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a pathology report to confirm diagnosis. In some cases, it is preferable to get the information from radiological studies rather than a biopsy, so if a pathology report is not available, they will use a surgical report and radiological studies as a substitute.

Grade III and IV astrocytomas are listed under the SSA’s Compassionate Allowance Program, which was launched in 2008 to expedite certain disability claims. Applying for disability benefits under the Compassionate Allowance Program requires the same procedure every applicant must follow when applying for SSA disability benefits; however, you will be notified if your condition is being considered as a compassionate allowance.

You may establish disability under the guidelines of the SSA’s Compassionate allowance program based on your diagnosis of astrocytoma if the following apply:

  • You have been diagnosed with an astrocytoma or glioma of the brain stem or thalamus, regardless of grade, OR
  • You have been diagnosed with an astrocytoma or glioma that recurs or progresses following initial therapy.

If neither of the above applies, but your condition still prevents you from working, then the SSA will evaluate your symptoms and their effect on your ability to work.

Your representative may be able to help expedite your disability claim if you have a diagnosis of astrocytoma.