About the disease
Neuroblastoma is a type of cancer that develops in the nervous system. It solely affects developing and immature nerve cells, mostly affecting infants and, in extremely rare instances, children older than 10 years. Neuroblastoma usually starts to develop in the adrenal glands near the spine, abdomen or pelvis. Neuroblastomas are not always cancerous. In some children, the tumor and cancerous cells die and disappear on their own without any treatment being necessary. Sometimes, cancerous cells just stop dividing and turn into normal cells. The dynamics of this disease’s progression is always very individual. In some children, neuroblastoma develops very slows and only manifests itself once the child is around 9-10 years old. In other cases, it develops very quickly and manifests itself when the child in under 1 year old.
According to the American Cancer Society, this disease is one of the most common infant cancers, accounting for 6% of all pediatric cancers. In the USA alone, there are approximately 600 new cases of neuroblastoma each year. Most commonly, neuroblastoma is diagnosed before the child is 1 year old. With modern technology and ultrasound techniques, this type of cancer is sometimes found during prenatal development.
Even though it is not clear what exactly causes neuroblastoma, researchers believe that it might be due to certain genetic changes that occur during prenatal development.
- Strange lump near adrenal glands, abdomen or pelvis
- Swelling of the affected part of the body
- Weight loss
- During a physical examination the doctor will examine the child’s strength and look for any swollen areas or strange growths on the child’s body.
- A blood test can establish whether there is an excess amount of the hormone epinephrine in the child’s bloodstream, which is a symptom of neuroblastoma.
- Images created by a CT or MRI scan can help to find a tumor and diagnose neuroblastoma.
- A biopsy of a tissue sample can be examined to determine the stage and extent of a tumor’s progression. It can confirm the diagnosis suggested by the imaging tests and ultrasound.
- Chemotherapy destroys as many cancerous cells as possible. It is also efficient if neuroblastoma has spread to the lymph nodes and other organs. Chemotherapy for neuroblastoma is usually administered in cycles, which have to be repeated every 3 or 4 weeks.
- Tumor resection is the surgical removal of as much of the tumor as possible, to prevent it from spreading further. If the tumor has also affected the lymph nodes, they are resected as well.