What is a Neuroblastoma?

A Kaminsky

When children are diagnosed with cancer, the type is most often a neuroblastoma. A neuroblastoma develops from nerve cells throughout the body, but most often from the cells in and around the adrenal glands.

As with other cancers, a child's chance of surviving a neuroblastoma are better when the tumor is diagnosed and treated early.
As with other cancers, a child's chance of surviving a neuroblastoma are better when the tumor is diagnosed and treated early.

About 650 people are diagnosed with neuroblastoma every year, and the majority of these patients are children. Neuroblastoma is rarely diagnosed in adults. The signs and symptoms of neuroblastoma vary, but often include fatigue, fever, abdominal pain and lumps under the skin, especially in the chest area.

Neuroblastoma symptoms may include fever and fatigue.
Neuroblastoma symptoms may include fever and fatigue.

The difficulty with neuroblastoma lies in early diagnosis. The early symptoms can be so vague they aren’t noticed until the cancer has metastasized to other parts of the body. Neuroblastoma is usually diagnosed through bone biopsy or marrow aspiration. It is then “staged,” or rated according to severity and metastasis level.

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Dark circles under the eye can be a symptom of a neuroblastoma.
Dark circles under the eye can be a symptom of a neuroblastoma.

If the neuroblastoma is found in time, treatment is often very successful. The prognosis is not so good in the later stages, however. Treatment depends on the staging. Surgery may be possible for earlier stages of neuroblastoma. Chemotherapy and radiation are indicated for more advanced cancer, and stem cell transplants may also be an option.

Children generally respond more readily to chemotherapy than do adults, which makes it the treatment of choice for most cancers. However, chemotherapy can also have long-term effects on a child’s developing body, making long-term follow-up care critical. Most children with a neuroblastoma diagnosis will see a pediatric oncologist, who will help manage the child’s immediate and long-term care.

While cancer in children is rare enough, parents should not ignore worrying signs. Sometimes, that feeling of something “not being right” with a child could lead to a crucial diagnosis. Parents should always insist their child’s pediatrician follow up thoroughly on any recurrent or nagging symptoms. As is the case with almost all cancers, early detection and early treatment greatly raise the chances for a cure.

A diagnosis of neuroblastoma is usually confirmed when a pathologist finds cancerous cells in a bone biopsy.
A diagnosis of neuroblastoma is usually confirmed when a pathologist finds cancerous cells in a bone biopsy.

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