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Neuroblastoma is a rare, cancer that usually occurs in children under age five. 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.
It is not known exactly why the tumor develops. A genetic mutation may be involved.
Factors that increase the risk of neuroblastoma include:
- Gender: males slightly more affected than females
- Certain conditions such as Turner syndrome , Hirschsprung's disease , Fetal alcohol syndrome , Neurofibromatosis type 1 , DiGeorge syndrome , Recklinghausen disease, Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome
- Exposure to certain medicines 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
- Weakness or paralysis
- Problems with eyelid and pupil
- Easy bruising or bleeding
- Weight loss
- General ill feeling (fever, fatigue, shortness of breath)
- Sudden involuntary jerking of muscles and random eye movements
These symptoms may be caused by another condition. If your child has any of these, talk to the doctor right away.
The doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests will depend on the suspected location of the tumor. Tests may include:
- Urine and blood tests
- Ultrasound—to create images of structures in the body
- MRI scan —to create images of structures in the body
- CT scan —to create images of structures in the body
- Myelogram—to create images of the spinal cord
- X-ray —to create images of structures in the body
- Biopsy of tumor—a piece of the tumor is removed and examined
- Bone marrow biopsy —a sample of bone marrow is removed and examined
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
Chemotherapy 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 transplant , 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.
Since the exact cause is unknown, there is no way to prevent this type of tumor from forming.
Last reviewed June 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.