This rare type of cancerous tumor is most commonly found in children under the age of five. Understanding the symptoms of this disorder can help you identify the signs and seek treatment quickly.

What Is a Neuroblastoma?

child looking into the camera

This type of cancer forms in the early form of nerve cells, known as neuroblasts. As the fetus develops, neuroblasts grow and become mature cells. But a problem can arise; instead of becoming mature cells, the neuroblasts may continue to grow and divide. While these abnormal cells usually die in infancy, in rare instances they can develop into tumors known as a neuroblastoma.

Experts do not know why some cells turn into cancer. Some believe it is related to a genetic mutation.

A neuroblastoma can form anywhere in the body but usually develops in nerve cells that are part of the sympathetic nervous system, which includes the spine, neck, chest, abdomen and pelvis. They are also common in the tissue of the adrenal glands above the kidneys.

Neuroblastomas account for six percent of all childhood cancers. Each year there are about 800 new cases in the U.S. Nearly 90 percent of all cases of this cancer are diagnosed by the age of five, with the majority of patients being one to two years old.

Common Neuroblastoma Symptoms

The most common symptoms include:

  • A noticeable abnormal mass
  • Enlarged lymph nodes
  • Poor appetite
  • Weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Abnormal blood pressure

These symptoms vary based on the size and location of the cancer.

How Cancer is Diagnosed

The cancer is often discovered when a parent or doctors notices or feels a bump on the child’s body. In order to make an official diagnosis, a urine test and imaging are ordered first. Eventually a biopsy is performed and a piece of tissue is examined under a microscope to confirm the diagnosis.

Neuroblastoma Treatment

The recommended treatment is based on the child’s risk category.

Low-risk patients exhibit no symptoms, and the cancer is usually only identified during a routine test. Often treatment is not needed as the cells will mature on their own. If necessary, surgery to remove the tumor is performed.

Intermediate-risk patients require surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible and a moderate course of chemotherapy. This helps destroy any remaining cancer cells and prevent the cancer from spreading.

Patients labeled high-risk have the most aggressive form of the disease. Their treatment plan starts with high-dose chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells. Then another round of chemotherapy is administered with a stem cell transplant to help the body replace bone marrow that was lost during treatment, and surgery is performed to remove the tumor. Radiation and immunotherapies to help boost the body’s immune system may also be used.

Contact the experts at Willamette Ear, Nose, Throat & Facial Plastic Surgery to learn more about this condition or to schedule an appointment.