What Are Neuroblastomas?

Neuroblastomas are tumors of special nervous system cells called postganglionic sympathetic neurons. These cells grow in the adrenal medulla, at the center of the adrenal gland. They also grow in special peripheral nervous system cells. Children often have tumors at birth, but they’re not diagnosed until later. Neuroblastomas are the third most common childhood cancer, after leukemia and brain tumors. They account for 10% of all solid tumors of childhood.

What Causes Neuroblastomas?

Most neuroblastomas are due to abnormalities of chromosomes called deletions. The tendency to develop neuroblastomas can sometimes be passed from parents to children.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Neuroblastomas?

Symptoms vary with the tumor location. About two-thirds start in the abdomen (belly). Of these, two-thirds are in the adrenals. Tumors may cause fatigue, weakness, weight loss, and low red blood cell count (anemia). Children may have a mass in abdomen, neck, or chest. Pressure on the spinal cord may cause back pain and urination or bowel movement problems. Tumors in the chest may mean breathing and swallowing problems, infections, and chronic cough. Symptoms from disease spread (metastasis) include fatigue, pain (usually bone pain), bruising, loss of appetite, and weight loss. Fever, bluish lumps under the skin, and irritability may also occur. Tumors may also cause jerky movements and uncontrolled eye movements called dancing eyes, dancing feet.

How Are Neuroblastomas Diagnosed?

The health care provider makes a preliminary diagnosis from the medical history and physical examination. Laboratory tests, computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and bone and other body scans and bone marrow biopsy may be needed for diagnosis. The health care provider will refer you to specialists in cancer treatment (oncologists and hematologists), radiation oncologists, and surgical oncologists.

How Are Neuroblastomas Treated?

Treatment depends on age at diagnosis, stage of disease, location of the tumor and metastases, and how aggressive the tumor is. Medicines (chemotherapy) may be given to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy may be used to shrink tumors and ease pain. Surgery may be done to remove a tumor if it hasn’t spread or to ease symptoms (palliative surgery) of incurable cancer. Pain management, nutritional support, and spiritual and family support are needed. Children with advanced disease can have bone marrow transplantation after chemotherapy. Children at the highest risk can also have this treatment. New therapies include immunotherapy. Substances called monoclonal antibodies and vaccines try to make the body have an immune reaction to the disease. This reaction helps the body fight the disease. Overall survival is higher than 40%. Children younger than 1 year have a cure rate as high as 90%.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Neuroblastomas:
  • DO remember to keep follow-up appointments with all health care providers. Children may be at risk for additional cancers, including renal cell cancer.
  • DON’T ignore symptoms. Call your health care provider if your child’s symptoms don’t get better or get worse with treatment. Call if your child has new symptoms.
  • DON’T let your child stop taking medicine unless your health care provider tells you to.
  • DON’T use any medicines (including over-the-counter and herbal products) without first asking your health care provider.

Contact the following source:

  • National Cancer Institute
    Tel: (1-800) 4-CANCER
  • American Cancer Society
    Tel: (1-800) ACS-2345
  • American Society of Clinical Oncology
    Tel: (703) 299-0150
  • American College of Surgeons
    Tel: (800) 621-4111

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

Ferri’s Netter Patient Advisor