Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Neuroblastoma—Child

Definition

Neuroblastoma is a rare cancer. It usually starts in nerve tissue near the adrenal glands. They are found just above the kidneys. However, some may start and grow in other parts of the body.

It may be found when your child is an baby. In some, the tumor may start before birth.

Adrenal Glands
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Causes ^

Cancer is when cells in the body split without control or order. These cells go on to form a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to harmful growths. These growths attack nearby tissues. They also spread to other parts of the body. It’s not clear exactly what causes these problems. It’s likely a mix of genes and the environment.

Risk Factors ^

Neuroblastoma is mainly found in children under 5 years old. It’s also more common in males. Your child’s chances are also higher for:

Symptoms ^

Symptoms will depend on the where the tumor is and if it’s spread. Some include:

  • A mass—usually the chest, neck, or belly
  • Belly pain—may be swollen in babies
  • Back or bone pain
  • Bowel changes
  • Problems passing urine
  • Breathing problems
  • Cough
  • Weak muscles
  • Eye problems
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Weight loss

Problems may be caused by a hormone imbalance caused by the tumor. These will depend on the hormone.

Diagnosis ^

The doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. Your answers and a physical exam may point to a neuroblastoma.

Your child may also have:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Tests for certain genes
  • Biopsy
  • Imaging tests such as:¥
    • Ultrasound
    • MRI scan
    • CT scan
    • Metaiodobenzylguanidine (mIBG) scan—to find tumor sites in the body

The test results will help find if the tumor is localized or if it’s spread. This helps with making a treatment plan.

Treatment ^

Some neuroblastomas go away on their own. Your child’s doctor may want a period of time to observe for any changes.

If needed, methods to treat neuroblastoma may be combined.

Surgery

Small tumors may be removed with surgery. In low risk cases, this may offer a cure.

Chemotherapy and Radiation Therapy

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body.

With radiation therapy, radiation is aimed at the tumor to kill the cancer cells. This may be used if the cancer has spread.

Bone Marrow Transplantation

Bone marrow is removed, treated, and frozen. High dose chemotherapy or radiation kills any leftover cancer cells. It’s replaced by your child’s own bone marrow or from a healthy donor. It’s put back in the body through an IV.

Prevention ^

There is no way to prevent neuroblastomas since the cause is unknown.

RESOURCES:

American Cancer Society
https://www.cancer.org

The Neuroblastoma Children’s Cancer Society
http://www.neuroblastomacancer.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Cancer Society
https://www.cancer.ca

Childhood Cancer Canada
http://www.childhoodcancer.ca

REFERENCES:

General information about neuroblastoma. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/neuroblastoma/patient/neuroblastoma-treatment-pdq. Updated July 6, 2018. Accessed July 31, 2018.

Neuroblastoma. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115227/Neuroblastoma. Updated February 15, 2018. Accessed July 31, 2018.

Neuroblastoma. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/neuroblastoma.html. Updated January 2017. Accessed July 31, 2018.

Last reviewed June 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 7/31/2018