Neuroblastoma—ChildEn Español (Spanish Version)
Neuroblastoma is a rare, cancerous tumor that usually occurs in children under age five. This tumor may begin before birth. It is often found during infancy. The tumor typically develops in nerve tissue near the adrenal glands. These glands are located above the kidneys. This type of tumor may also develop in the abdomen, chest, neck, or spinal cord.
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The tumor begins in the neural crest cells. These cells are part of the nervous system. It is not known exactly why the tumor develops. A chromosomal mutation may be associated with this condition.
Risk factors include:
- Age: under five years
- Gender: males slightly more affected than females
- Certain conditions (eg, Turner syndrome , Hirschsprung's disease , Fetal alcohol syndrome , Neurofibromatosis type 1 , DiGeorge syndrome , Recklinghausen disease, Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome)
- Fetal exposure to certain medicines and substances (eg, diuretics, tranquilizers, phenytoin, alcohol, tobacco)
Depending on the location of the tumor and whether the cancer has spread, symptoms may include:
- Lump anywhere on the body, usually the chest, neck, or abdomen
- Abdominal pain (swollen abdomen in infants)
- Pain (eg, back or bone pain)
- Bowel changes and difficulty urinating
- Respiratory symptoms (eg, trouble breathing, coughing)
- Weakness or paralysis
- Problems with eyelid and pupil (called Horner syndrome)
- Easy bruising or bleeding
- Weight loss
- General ill feeling (fever, fatigue, shortness of breath)
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 may include:
- Urine and blood tests
- Ultrasound—a test that uses sound waves to examine the body
- MRI scan —a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside the body
- CT scan —a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the body
- Myelogram—a test that uses a special contrast material to view the spinal cord
- X-ray —a test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures inside the body, especially bones.
- Biopsy of tumor—removes a piece of the tumor to figure out what the mass is made of
- Bone marrow biopsy —removal of a sample of bone marrow
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:
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.
While it is not known why, in some cases, neuroblastoma goes away on its own.
National Cancer Institute
The Neuroblastoma Children’s Cancer Society
Canadian Cancer Society
Childhood Cancer Foundation
DynaMed Editorial Team. Neuroblastoma. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated June 24, 2010. Accessed July 22, 2010.
Nemours Foundation, Kids Health. Neuroblastoma. Kids Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/medical/cancer/neuroblastoma.html . Accessed June 29, 2010.
Schub T, Pravikoff D. Neuroblastoma. EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/thisTopic.php?marketID=16&topicID=860 . Published January 15, 2010. Accessed date July 22, 2010.
Last reviewed June 2011 by Kari Kassir, MD
Last updated Updated: 6/6/2011
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.
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