A ganglioneuroblastoma is a type of cancer that grows out of the nerves of the body. Normally affecting children, the tumor is very rare, and usually presents itself as a growth somewhere on the body. Possible treatments include surgical removal of the tumor, drug or radiation therapies, and although ganglioneuroblastoma can be fatal, it tends to be less aggressive than some other types of cancer.
When a child develops in the womb, cells called neuroblasts are the original cells from which nerve cells develop. Ganglion cells are types of nerve cells that are commonly found in the spine. A ganglioneuroblastoma, therefore, is a tumor that generally involves both neuroblast and ganglion cells. Doctors can actually separate a ganglioneuroblastoma into several varieties, depending on how much of the tumor is made up of either type of cell.
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Tumors with one or more significant lumps of neuroblasts together with ganglion cell growth are called nodular ganglioneuroblastomas, whereas more scattered, and less obvious neuroblast groups with ganglions are classified as intermixed ganglioneuroblastomas. A maturing ganglioneuroblastoma is one with no neuroblasts and ganglions that are still growing, whereas a tumor made up entirely of mature ganglion cells is referred to as a mature ganglioneuroblastoma. Cancers that involve ganglions tend to spread less rapidly than those that contain only neuroblasts, so the tumor falls into a group of cancers that are called "intermediate" in terms of aggressiveness.
Normally, the first signs of a ganglioneuroblastoma involve the appearance of a lump on the child's body. Most commonly, the lump originates in the abdominal area. As the condition only affects about five out of 1,000,000 children, a doctor typically has to order a variety of tests to figure out the cause of the lump. These tests include medical scans such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or a computer tomography (CT) scan. The child also usually has to give blood and urine samples, and a more invasive and uncomfortable bone marrow sample may also be required.
If the scans and tests indicate the presence of a tumor, the child generally also has to undergo a biopsy so it can be confirmed through microscopic analysis. Surgery to remove it is a common option, and drugs and radiation to help kill the cancer cells are also available for this type of cancer. Children whose tumors have not yet spread have the best chance of a good outcome.