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What Is a Blastoma?

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  • Written By: L. Whitaker
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 12 August 2014
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A blastoma is the generic name for any tumor that originates in embryonic tissue and thus typically indicates childhood cancer. The term blastoma is generally included as part of the full medical name of a specific tumor, as in medulloblastoma, neuroblastoma, or pleuropulmonary blastoma. The symptoms, recommended treatments, and prognosis or expected medical outcome of a blastoma will vary depending on the specific type and location of the tumor.

The term blastoma appears in the medical names of a wide variety of childhood cancers. Glioblastoma and medulloblastoma refer to brain tumors. Hepatoblastoma is a tumor of the liver, while nephroblastoma is a tumor affecting the kidneys. Pleuropulmonary blastoma is a rare type of cancer affecting the lungs. Other common childhood cancers include retinoblastoma, which affects the eyes; neuroblastoma, which originates in the adrenal glands or related parts of the nervous system; and osteoblastoma, which is a benign tumor found in bone tissue.

Medulloblastoma is a childhood cancer that begins in the cerebellum, which is located in the lower part of the brain, and could potentially metastasize along the spine or to specific bones. This type of tumor can generally be treated with radiation and surgery, and is sometimes treated with adjuvant chemotherapy. The prognosis tends to be good, with as many as 50 percent of cases being in remission 10 years after the condition is diagnosed.

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Neuroblastoma, which is a tumor that affects the adrenal glands and nervous system, is the most common non-brain-based tumor in children and infants. Symptoms of this condition can include dark circles around the eyes or bulging eyeballs, and paralysis is possible if the tumor compresses the spinal cord. In a high percentage of cases, neuroblastoma tumors are not diagnosed until after they have metastasized; the condition is frequently present at birth but not recognized until later in infancy or childhood.

Retinoblastoma is a tumor originating in the cells of the retina, which is the part of the eye that senses light. This type of cancer can be either hereditary, in which case it is evidenced at birth by the presence of tumors in both eyes, or sporadic, which occurs later in childhood and usually involves only one eye. A child with hereditary retinoblastoma is more likely to develop tumors in other parts of the body as a teenager or adult. This condition usually happens in children under 5 years old. Common symptoms include a white pupil, crossed eyes or "lazy eye," loss of central vision, or glaucoma.

Both nephroblastoma and hepatoblastoma are often indicated by abdominal swelling, which is caused by the presence of a tumor in the kidney or liver. Nephroblastoma is also called a Wilms tumor, after the surgeon who first discovered it. It's the most common malignant tumor of the kidneys in children.

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