Cancer 101: Cancer Explained

Neuroblastoma facts*

*Neuroblastoma facts medical author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

  • Neuroblastoma is a disease in which cancer cells form in nerve tissue of the adrenal gland, neck, chest, or spinal cord.
  • Neuroblastoma is the third most common childhood cancer after leukemias and cancer of the central nervous system.
  • Common symptoms of neuroblastoma include a lump in the abdomen, neck, or chest; bulging eyes; dark circles around the eyes; bone pain; weakness or paralysis of a body part; and in infants -- swollen stomach and bluish lumps under the skin.
  • To diagnose neuroblastoma, a doctor will take a history and perform a physical exam. They may also do a urine test, blood chemistry studies, X-rays, CT scans, neurological exams, ultrasound, and other tests, or take samples of bone marrow for analysis or biopsy. Many of these same tests can help determine the stage or extent of the neuroblastoma.
  • The prognosis for neuroblastoma depends on the age of the child when diagnosed, the stage of the cancer, where the tumor is located, and how quickly the tumor cells are growing.
  • There are four stages of neuroblastoma. Stages depend on whether the tumor can be completely removed surgically, if it has spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
  • For neuroblastoma, treatment is based on risk groups: low risk, intermediate risk, and high risk. The stage of neuroblastoma is one factor used to determine risk group. Other factors are the age of the child, the tumor's appearance under the microscope. its histology, and other measures of the tumor's biology.
  • Standard treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and watching and waiting to see how the disease progresses. Newer types of treatment include monoclonal antibody therapy, high-dose chemotherapy and radiation therapy with stem cell transplant, and other drug therapies. Taking part in clinical trials may be considered.

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