Neuroblastoma

Neuroblastoma

Neuroblastoma starts in immature forms of nerve cells (called neuroblasts) usually found in the embryo or fetus.

Neuroblastoma occurs most often in young children or infants and rarely occurs in children over 10 years old. This type of cancer affects the sympathetic nervous system so neuroblastomas can be found anywhere along this system.

The most common starting location of neuroblastoma is the sympathetic nerve ganglia around the adrenal glands which sit on top of the kidneys. However, neuroblastoma can develop in nerve cells located in other parts of the abdomen, chest, neck, or spinal area.

Neuroblastomas vary in behavior with some spreading quickly and others growing slowly. Sometimes the cancer will die for no apparent reason and go away on its own. Treatment for your child will vary depending on the kind of neuroblastoma diagnosed.

What are the symptoms of neuroblastoma?

Symptoms will depend on what area of the body is affected by the neuroblastoma.

Symptoms of neuroblastoma in the abdomen (the most common form) include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • A mass under the skin
  • Diarrhea or constipation

Symptoms of neuroblastoma in the chest include:

  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain
  • Eye changes such as drooping eyelids or unequal pupil size

Other general signs include:

  • Lumps of tissue underneath the skin
  • Proptosis
  • General pain or fever
  • Bone pain
  • Inexplicable weight loss

Are there any known risk factors?

A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of developing a disease such as cancer. Different diseases have different risk factors.

Having a family history of neuroblastoma may increase the likelihood of developing neuroblastoma, but these sorts of cases are few. In most cases, there is never an identifiable cause of neuroblastoma.

How are neuroblastomas treated?

Treatment of neuroblastoma depends on several aspects of the cancer such as the risk group, the patient’s age, their overall health, and may include one or more forms of treatment.

Low risk cases are not very intensive and, due to the chance of the tumor maturing or going away on its own, have the possibility of not needing treatment at all! If the tumor needs to be removed, surgery may be required. Chemotherapy may also be used if the tumor does not go away after surgery or if the child starts showing symptoms. Children with low risk neuroblastomas should be watched carefully to ensure that the neuroblastoma safely goes away or is treated accordingly.

Intermediate risk cases require more intense treatment. Surgery is often necessary and mixed with other forms of treatment such as chemotherapy. Radiation therapy is usually only required in cases of emergency or if the disease does not respond to chemotherapy.

High risk cases demand the most aggressive forms of treatment and involve a mix of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, stem cell transplant, immunotherapy, and retinoid therapy. Treatment is split up into three phases, the first being induction, in which the doctors will try to destroy as much of the cancer as possible to force the disease into remission. The second phase is consolidation, which uses more intensive treatments to clean up remaining cancer cells. The last phase is maintenance, which is focused on lowering the chance of the cancer coming back.

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