What Is the Life Expectancy of a Child With Neuroblastoma?

Medically Reviewed on 12/20/2022
Life Expectancy of Neuroblastoma
Many children only have a few symptoms of neuroblastoma, which makes detecting it in its early stages difficult.

Neuroblastoma is a rare childhood cancer that primarily affects children younger than five years. Neuroblastoma begins in the early forms of nerve cells. It may grow slowly at times, spread rapidly in some patients, or disappear in rare cases.

Neuroblastoma accounts for 8 to 10 percent of all childhood cancers and roughly 15 percent of pediatric cancer deaths. 

Many factors influence a child's survival rate, particularly the tumor’s risk grouping. There are three levels of risk: low, intermediate, and high. Neuroblastomas of low and intermediate risk have a good prognosis, but high-risk neuroblastoma may be difficult to treat.

Five-year survival rates based on risk category

  • Low-risk neuroblastoma: Averaging 95 percent
  • Intermediate-risk neuroblastoma: Between 80 and 95 percent
  • High-risk neuroblastoma: About 50 percent

Infants have a higher chance of surviving neuroblastoma than older children. Nearly 60 percent of patients with high-risk neuroblastoma may have a relapse. However, relapses occur in only 5 to 15 percent of children with intermediate or low-risk neuroblastomas. Once in relapse, the survival probability declines to below five percent.

Those who survive neuroblastoma may experience long-term issues, such as hearing loss, growth and development retardation, learning challenges, and thyroid disease. Moreover, children who have received chemotherapy and radiation are at risk of acquiring secondary malignancies later in life.

Survival rates can not indicate how long a person will survive, but they can indicate the efficacy of treatment. Some children outperform the average, whereas others do not. Some children respond to treatment better than others, perhaps “breaking the odds,” and as neuroblastoma research advances, additional medicines may help change the outlook. Given the developments in medicine, survival rates may improve in the future.

What are the common signs and symptoms of neuroblastoma in children?

Neuroblastoma tumors are most commonly seen in one of the adrenal glands. Early signs include lack of appetite, fatigue, and bone discomfort; however, symptoms vary depending on the size and location of the tumor.

Signs and symptoms of neuroblastoma in children

Many children have few of the above symptoms, making it difficult to detect neuroblastoma in its early stages. Neuroblastoma, particularly high-risk neuroblastoma, frequently manifests in the later stages, that is, only after cancer has spread throughout the body. The most common sign of this cancer is a lump or swelling in the child's abdomen.

According to the American Cancer Society, about 800 new cases of neuroblastoma are diagnosed in the United States each year.

What are the causes of and risk factors for neuroblastoma in children?

Researchers are still debating the cause of neuroblastoma in children. The majority of neuroblastoma cells contain abnormalities affecting a certain chromosome (chromosome I). The more malignant tumors often include multiple copies of the oncogene MYCN in the tumor cells although several other genetic abnormalities may also be present.

Risk factors for neuroblastoma in children

  • Age: Neuroblastoma is more common in newborns and toddlers. It is quite unusual in individuals older than 10 years.
  • Heredity: Children with neuroblastoma have a family history of the disease in about one to two percent of cases.
  • Birth defects or congenital anomalies: According to research, infants with specific birth abnormalities may be at a higher risk of neuroblastoma, and to some extent, the relationship between birth abnormalities and neuroblastoma may be due to gene alterations that occur during fetal development.


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What are the treatment options for neuroblastoma in children?

Treatment is determined by the patient's age and the extent to which the disease has spread. Once the neuroblastoma diagnosis is confirmed, the doctor may begin therapy to save the patient's life. 

Treatment options for neuroblastoma in children

  • Surgery
    • If it is possible and safe, a child's tumor can be removed by surgery. Surgery may be required at a later stage of therapy in certain children.
  • Chemotherapy
    • The primary therapy for neuroblastoma in patients with moderate to high-risk neuroblastoma.
    • Chemotherapy refers to the use of medications to kill cancer cells. Drugs can be administered by various methods, the most frequent of which is intravenous injection. 
    • Chemotherapy is often administered as a cocktail of different medications.
  • High-dose chemotherapy or myeloablative therapy
    • Following surgery, children with high-risk neuroblastoma receive high-dose chemotherapy. As the treatment is extensive, the child may need hospitalization for four to six weeks.
  • Autologous stem cell transplant
    • Before administering high-dose chemotherapy, stem cells are extracted from the child and carefully preserved. They are later administered to the child following high-dose chemotherapy to allow the bone marrow to heal.
  • Radiotherapy
    • Uses high-energy radiation to eliminate cancer cells in a specific area of the body. 
    • Children with high-risk neuroblastoma receive radiation once their tumor has been surgically removed and high-dose chemotherapy has been administered. 
    • Some children with intermediate-risk neuroblastoma receive radiation therapy following surgery; however, this is decided on an individual basis. 
  • Differentiation therapy/immunotherapy
    • Additional treatment is advised for children with high-risk neuroblastoma whose tumors have responded to induction chemotherapy, surgery, high-dose chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. 
    • This entails medications that distinguish malignant cells from noncancerous cells. In addition, children receive immunotherapy using monoclonal antibodies. 
    • Immunotherapy for neuroblastoma uses a child's immune cells to attack tumor cells.

Unfortunately, different treatments might result in various adverse effects. Fortunately, such symptoms are usually temporary, and there are often ways to manage or reduce them through supportive treatment.

Medically Reviewed on 12/20/2022
Image Source: Getty image

Pediatric Neuroblastoma: https://childrensnational.org/visit/conditions-and-treatments/cancer/neuroblastoma

Neuroblastoma In Childhood: Review and Radiological Findings: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1665241/

Neuroblastoma - Childhood: Types of Treatment: https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/neuroblastoma-childhood/types-treatment