Pediatric Hematology/Oncology

What is Neuroblastoma?

Neuroblastoma is a solid, cancerous tumor that begins in nerve tissue in the neck, chest, abdomen, or pelvis, but often (1/3 of the time) originates in the abdomen in the tissues of the adrenal gland. It is typically a tumor of early childhood, and accounts for 50% of the cancers diagnosed in infants.

Cancer develops as the result of abnormal cell growth within the body. In the case of neuroblastoma, the cells of this cancer usually resemble very primitive developing nerve cells found in an embryo or fetus. (The term neuro indicates "nerves," and blastoma refers to a cancer that affects immature or developing cells.) The immature cells go on to divide and grow abnormally and create a tumor. Some of these tumors do turn out to be non-cancerous (benign), and are referred to as [ganglioneuroma].

Risk Factors

There are currently no strong risk factors associated with neuroblastoma. Researchers have found the following:

  • Age. Occurs most often in infants and accounts for 50% of all cancers diagnosed in infancy.
  • Sex. Occurs slightly more often in boys than in girls.
  • Race. Occurs slightly more often in white children that in African-American children.
  • Family history. If neuroblastoma has occurred in other relatives, a child may have a slightly higher risk of developing this disease, too.

Common Symptoms

Any one or combination of the following symptoms may be a sign of neuroblastoma:

  • Unusual lump or mass, usually in the neck, chest, abdomen, or pelvis
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort
  • Bone pain or tenderness
  • Fever
  • Protruding eyes and dark circles around the eyes

Less common symptoms may include:

  • Paralysis
  • High blood pressure
  • Severe watery diarrhea
  • Uncoordinated or jerky muscle movements
  • Uncontrollable eye movement

Symptoms can be indicative of neuroblastoma or other medical conditions. If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, he/she should see their doctor.

Diagnosing Neuroblastoma

If symptoms are present, your child's doctor will perform a complete physical exam and will prescribe additional tests to find the cause of the symptoms. Tests may include blood tests, urine tests, CT (or CAT) scan, MRI and/or a biopsy.

Often, neuroblastoma is present at birth, but is not detected until later. In rare cases, it can be detected before birth by fetal ultrasound.

Treatment Options

If cancer is detected, your child's doctor will prescribe additional tests to determine the type and stage (progress) of the disease. Then your child's doctor will work with you and your child to determine the best treatment plan. Treatment will be based upon the type and stage of the cancer, as well as your child's age and general health. Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or blood and marrow transplant.

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Golisano Children's Hospital
601 Elmwood Avenue
Rochester, NY 14642
Phone: (585) 275-2981
Fax: (585) 273-1039

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