Disease: Neuroblastoma


    Neuroblastoma is a cancer that develops from immature nerve cells found in several areas of the body.

    Neuroblastoma most commonly arises in and around the adrenal glands, which have similar origins to nerve cells and sit atop the kidneys. However, neuroblastoma can also develop in other areas of the abdomen and in the chest, neck and near the spine, where groups of nerve cells exist.

    Neuroblastoma most commonly affects children age 5 or younger, though it may rarely occur in older children.

    Some forms of neuroblastoma go away on their own, while others may require multiple treatments. Your child's neuroblastoma treatment options will depend on several factors.

    Neuroblastoma care at Mayo Clinic

    Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com


    Signs and symptoms of neuroblastoma vary depending on what part of the body is affected.

    Neuroblastoma in the abdomen — the most common form — may cause signs and symptoms such as:

    • Abdominal pain
    • A mass under the skin that isn't tender when touched
    • Changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation

    Neuroblastoma in the chest may cause signs and symptoms such as:

    • Wheezing
    • Chest pain
    • Changes to the eyes, including drooping eyelids and unequal pupil size

    Other signs and symptoms that may indicate neuroblastoma include:

    • Lumps of tissue under the skin
    • Eyeballs that seem to protrude from the sockets (proptosis)
    • Dark circles, similar to bruises, around the eyes
    • Back pain
    • Fever
    • Unexplained weight loss
    • Bone pain

    When to see a doctor

    Contact your child's doctor if your child has any signs or symptoms that worry you. Mention any changes in your child's behavior or habits.

    Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com


    In general, cancer begins with a genetic mutation that allows normal, healthy cells to continue growing without responding to the signals to stop, which normal cells do. Cancer cells grow and multiply out of control. The accumulating abnormal cells form a mass (tumor).

    Neuroblastoma begins in neuroblasts — immature nerve cells that a fetus makes as part of its development process.

    As the fetus matures, neuroblasts eventually turn into nerve cells and fibers and the cells that make up the adrenal glands. Most neuroblasts mature by birth, though a small number of immature neuroblasts can be found in newborns. In most cases, these neuroblasts mature or disappear. Others, however, form a tumor — a neuroblastoma.

    It isn't clear what causes the initial genetic mutation that leads to neuroblastoma.

    Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com


    Tests and procedures used to diagnose neuroblastoma include:

    • Physical exam. Your child's doctor conducts a physical exam to check out any signs and symptoms. The doctor will ask you questions about your child's habits and behaviors.
    • Urine and blood tests. These may indicate the cause of any signs and symptoms your child is experiencing. Urine tests may be used to check for high levels of certain chemicals that result from the neuroblastoma cells producing excess catecholamines.
    • Imaging tests. Imaging tests may reveal a mass that can indicate a tumor. Imaging tests may include an X-ray, ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) scan, metaiodobenzylguanidine (MIBG) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), among others.
    • Removing a sample of tissue for testing. If a mass is found, your child's doctor may want to remove a sample of the tissue for laboratory testing (biopsy). Specialized tests on the tissue sample can reveal what types of cells are involved in the tumor and specific genetic characteristics of the cancer cells. This information helps your child's doctor devise an individualized treatment plan.
    • Removing a sample of bone marrow for testing. Your child may also undergo bone marrow biopsy and bone marrow aspiration procedures to see if neuroblastoma has spread to the bone marrow — the spongy material inside the largest bones where blood cells are formed. In order to remove bone marrow for testing, a needle is inserted into your child's hipbone or lower back to draw out the marrow.


    Once neuroblastoma is diagnosed, your child's doctor may order further testing to determine the extent of the cancer and whether it has spread to distant organs — a process called staging. Imaging tests used to stage cancer include X-rays, bone scans, and CT, MRI and MIBG scans, among others.

    Using the information from those procedures, your child's doctor assigns a stage to the neuroblastoma. Stages of neuroblastoma include:

    • Stage I. Neuroblastoma at this stage is localized, meaning it's confined to one area, and may be completely removed with surgery. Lymph nodes connected to the tumor may have signs of cancer, but other lymph nodes don't have cancer.
    • Stage IIA. Neuroblastoma at this stage is localized, but may not be as easily removed through surgery.
    • Stage IIB. Neuroblastoma at this stage is localized and may or may not be easily removed through surgery. Both the lymph nodes connected to the tumor and the lymph nodes nearby contain cancer cells.
    • Stage III. Neuroblastoma at this stage is considered advanced, and it isn't possible to remove the tumor through surgery. The tumor may be a larger size at this stage. Lymph nodes may or may not contain cancer cells.
    • Stage IV. Neuroblastoma at this stage is considered advanced and has spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body.
    • Stage IVS. This stage is a special category of neuroblastoma that doesn't behave like other forms of neuroblastoma, though it isn't clear why. Stage IVS neuroblastoma applies only to children younger than 1 year old. Stage IVS indicates that neuroblastoma has spread to another part of the body — most commonly the skin, liver or limited bone marrow involvement. Despite the extent of neuroblastoma, babies with this stage have a good chance of recovery. Neuroblastoma at this stage sometimes goes away on its own and often doesn't require any treatment.

    Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com


    • Spread of the cancer (metastasis). Neuroblastoma may spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, bone marrow, liver, skin and bones.
    • Spinal cord compression. Tumors may grow and press on the spinal cord, causing spinal cord compression. Spinal cord compression may cause pain and paralysis.
    • Signs and symptoms caused by tumor secretions. Neuroblastoma cells may secrete certain chemicals that irritate other normal tissues, causing signs and symptoms called paraneoplastic syndromes. One paraneoplastic syndrome that occurs rarely in people with neuroblastoma causes rapid eye movements and difficulty with coordination. Another rare syndrome causes abdominal swelling and diarrhea.

    Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

    Coping and support

    When your child is diagnosed with cancer, it's common to feel a range of emotions — from shock and disbelief to guilt and anger. In the midst of this emotional roller coaster, you're expected to make decisions about your child's treatment. It can be overwhelming.

    If you're feeling lost, you might try to:

    • Gather all the information you need. Find out enough about neuroblastoma to feel comfortable making decisions about your child's care. Talk with your child's health care team. Keep a list of questions to ask at the next appointment. Visit your local library and ask for help searching for information. Consult the websites of the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society for more information.
    • Organize a support network. Find friends and family who can help support you as a caregiver. Loved ones can accompany your child to doctor visits or sit by his or her bedside in the hospital when you can't be there. When you're with your child, your friends and family can help out by spending time with your other children or helping around your house.
    • Take advantage of resources for children with cancer. Seek out special resources for families of kids with cancer. Ask your clinic's social workers about what's available. Support groups for parents and siblings put you in touch with people who understand what you're feeling. Your family may be eligible for summer camps, temporary housing and other support.
    • Maintain normalcy as much as possible. Small children can't understand what's happening to them as they undergo cancer treatment. To help your child cope, try to maintain a normal routine as much as possible.

      Try to arrange appointments so that your child can have a set nap time each day. Have routine mealtimes. Allow time for play when your child feels up to it. If your child must spend time in the hospital, bring items from home that help him or her feel more comfortable.

      Ask your health care team about other ways to comfort your child through his or her treatment. Some hospitals have recreation therapists or child-life workers who can give you more-specific ways to help your child cope.

    Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

    Risk factors

    Children with a family history of neuroblastoma may be more likely to develop the disease. Yet, familial neuroblastoma is thought to comprise a very small number of neuroblastoma cases. In most cases of neuroblastoma, a cause is never identified.

    Source: http://www.mayoclinic.com

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