A neuroblastoma is a rare cancerous tumor that is typically diagnosed in infants and children under the age of five. Other than a brain tumor, it is the most common kind of tumor found in children, and about 800 new cases are diagnosed each year in the U.S.
Neuroblastoma can occur nearly anywhere in the body, but most often appears in the adrenal glands, which are located at the top of the kidneys, as well as in nerve cells along the spine, neck, chest, abdomen or pelvis. Neuroblastoma cells can eventually spread to the lymph nodes, liver, bones, bone marrow and skin.
What Causes Neuroblastoma?
As a fetus develops, neuroblasts grow and eventually become mature nerve cells, but if the neuroblasts don’t develop correctly and instead continue to grow and divide, a neuroblastoma can occur. In some cases, abnormal neuroblasts die off during infancy, but in rare cases they can accumulate and develop into tumors.
Most of the time, these tumors regress on their own without needing treatment, and there is some evidence that neuroblastoma may be a normal stage of fetal development. However, sometimes a genetic mutation can cause the cells to turn cancerous.
What Are the Symptoms of Neuroblastoma?
Neuroblastoma is usually discovered when a parent or doctor detects an unusual lump on an infant’s body. It may be visible through the skin or might be deep enough that it presses on nearby organs, causing other symptoms.
Other symptoms of neuroblastoma include enlarged lymph nodes, weakness, poor appetite, diarrhea and abnormal blood pressure. It is possible to have a neuroblastoma with no other symptoms.
The tumor can be detected as early as pregnancy, but is more commonly diagnosed in infancy or early childhood. It is extremely rare to be diagnosed with neuroblastoma after age 10.
How Is Neuroblastoma Treated?
Treatment of neuroblastoma depends on the child’s age, features of the tumor and whether or not the cancer has spread.
In cases that are considered low-risk, the tumor may go away on its own or mature into normal cells without any treatment at all.
Intermediate-risk patients may require surgery to remove the tumor, followed by a moderate course of chemotherapy to destroy remaining cancer cells and prevent them from spreading.
High-risk patients need high-dose chemotherapy, with possible successive courses, stem cell transplant, surgery, radiation and/or immunotherapy.
For more information about neuroblastoma or to schedule an appointment, call Topeka ENT today.