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Disease: Neuroblastoma Neuroblastoma
Category: Tumors

Disease Definition:

Neuroblastoma is a cancer that develops from nerve cells located in a few areas of the body, and it most usually arises in and around the adrenal glands which is positioned on the top of the kidneys and have similar origins to nerve cells. This disease can also occur where groups of nerve cells exist such as in the neck, chest, pelvis, and other areas of the abdomen.


Neuroblastoma is the most common cancer in babies and often has a very good prognosis in children younger than 1 year old; however, it generally affects children age 5 or younger and it may rarely affect adults and older children.

Work Group:

Symptoms, Causes


Signs and symptoms of neuroblastoma differ depending on what part of the body is affected with this cancer; for example, neuroblastoma in the abdomen, which is the most common form of  neuroblastoma and may cause some of these signs and symptoms:


  • Swelling in the legs
  • Changes in urinary habits, such as having to go to the bathroom more often
  • Changes in bowel habits, such as constipation
  • A mass under the skin that isn`t painful when touched
  • A feeling of fullness in the abdomen
  • Abdominal pain


On the other hand, signs and symptoms caused by neuroblastoma in the chest include:


  • Changes to the eyes, like unequal pupil size and drooping eyelids
  • Swelling in the face
  • Wheezing


However, other signs and symptoms that may indicate this disease include:


  • Bone pain
  • Back pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Scoliosis, which is curvature of the spine
  • Fever
  • Dark circles around the eyes that are similar to bruises
  • Proptosis, in which the eyeballs seem to stick out from their sockets
  • Lumps of tissue under the skin


When children have signs and symptoms that worry their families, a doctor should be seen with the observing of any changes in the behavior or habits of the affected child.


Cancer generally begins with a genetic mutation that allows normal healthy cells to keep on growing without responding to the signals to stop which normal cells do. These cancer cells grow and multiply out of control, this building up of abnormal cells forms a tumor. Furthermore, cancer cells could invade nearby tissues and separate from an initial tumor and metastasize elsewhere in the body.


Neuroblastoma starts in immature nerve cells called neuroblasts that a fetus makes as part of its development process that ultimately turn into nerve cells and fibers and the cells that make up the adrenal glands when the fetus matures. Although studies have found a small number of immature neuroblasts in new born children, but the majority of neuroblasts mature by birth. Neuroblasts that don’t mature or disappear cause neuroblastoma, but in most cases they do mature.


Because neuroblastoma usually affects very young children, researchers believe that the mutation occurs during pregnancy or possibly even before conception; however, it is not clear what causes the initial genetic mutation that develops into neuroblastoma.



The complications of neuroblastoma include spinal cord compression, metastasis of the cancer, and paraneoplastic syndromes.

Spinal cord compression:

Tumors might grow and press on the spinal cord causing spinal cord compression which might cause pain and paralysis.

Metastasis of the cancer:

Neuroblastoma might metastasize to other parts of the body such as the bone marrow, lymph nodes, eyes, skin, liver, and dura, which is the tissue that surrounds the spinal cord.

Paraneoplastic syndromes:

These signs and symptoms occur when neuroblastoma secretes certain chemicals that mildly inflame other normal tissues. Some paraneoplastic syndrome that occurs rarely in people with neuroblastoma causes rapid eye movements and difficulty with coordination; however, another rare syndrome causes diarrhea and abdominal swelling.


Doctors select a treatment plan based on a few factors that affect the prognosis of the child; these factors include:


  • The age of the child
  • The stage of the cancer
  • The types of cells involved in the cancer
  • Abnormalities in the chromosomes and genes


Then, the doctor classifies the cancer as low, intermediate, or high risk, based on the factors mentioned above, and depending on the risk classification, the child receives treatment or combinations of treatments for neuroblastoma.


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