Neuroblastoma is a rare cancer that usually occurs in children under 5 years of age. The tumor is often found during infancy and may begin before birth. It typically develops in nerve tissue near the adrenal glands just above the kidneys. However, some tumors may develop in the abdomen, chest, neck, or spinal cord.
Like most cancers, neuroblastoma can eventually spread to other parts of the body. Early detection and treatment may prevent the spread of cancer.
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It is not known exactly why the tumor develops. A genetic mutation may be involved.
Neuroblastoma affects males slightly more often than females. Factors that increase the risk of neuroblastoma include:
Certain conditions such as
fetal alcohol syndrome
neurofibromatosis type 1
, Recklinghausen disease, Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome
- Exposure to certain medications and substances such as diuretics, tranquilizers, phenytoin, alcohol, or tobacco during pregnancy
Symptoms will depend on the location of the tumor and whether the cancer has spread. Some symptoms may include:
- Lump anywhere on the body, usually the chest, neck, or abdomen
- Abdominal pain—swollen abdomen in infants
- Pain such back or bone pain that is not explained
- Bowel changes and difficulty urinating
- Trouble breathing or coughing
- Problems with eyelids and pupils
- Easy bruising or bleeding
- Weight loss
- Sudden involuntary jerking of muscles and random eye movements
You will be asked about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests will depend on the suspected location of the tumor.
Your child's bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:
Images may be taken of your child's bodily structures. This can be done with:
The cancer can spread to the liver, lungs, and bones. Early detection is key to a good prognosis.
Talk with the doctor about the best treatment plan for your child. Treatment options include:
If possible, surgery may be done to remove the tumor.
Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy
is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body, killing mostly cancer cells. With
radiation therapy, radiation is directed at the tumor to kill the cancer cells. Radiation therapy may be used if the cancer has spread.
Bone Marrow Transplantation
During this type of
, bone marrow is removed, treated, and frozen. Large doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy are applied to kill the cancer cells. After treatment, the bone marrow is replaced via a vein. Transplanted bone marrow may be your child’s own bone marrow that was treated or it may be marrow from a healthy donor.
Some neuroblastomas go away on their own. It is not known why this happens.
There are no current guidelines to prevent neuroblastomas because the cause is unknown.
National Cancer Institute
The Neuroblastoma Children’s Cancer Society
Canadian Cancer Society
Childhood Cancer Canada
General information about neuroblastoma. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/types/neuroblastoma/patient/neuroblastoma-treatment-pdq. Updated January 20, 2016. Accessed September 6, 2016.
Neuroblastoma. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:
http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115227/Neuroblastoma. Updated May 6, 2016. Accessed September 6, 2016.
Neuroblastoma. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at:
http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/neuroblastoma.html. Updated September 2014. Accessed September 6, 2016.