How common is neuroblastoma?
- It is the most common tumor found in children younger than 1 year old.
- It occurs slightly more often in males than in females.
- In the United States, about 500 children are diagnosed with neuroblastoma each year.
- Neuroblastoma is rare in children older than 10 years of age; however, it does occur occasionally in adults.
How does neuroblastoma develop?
In neuroblastoma, the tumor usually begins in the tissues of the adrenal gland found in the abdomen, but may also begin in nerve tissue in the neck, chest and/or pelvis.
- The adrenal glands are positioned on top of the kidneys. These glands secrete hormones and other important substances that are required for normal functions in the body, such as the nervous system.
My child has been diagnosed with ganglioneuroblastoma. What’s that?
About one-third of neuroblastomas may begin in the adrenal glands, but many others begin in the ganglia, clusters of nerve cells found throughout the body that are part of the nervous system.
There is a benign tumor called ganglioneuroma, which is formed by mature ganglion and nerve cells that don’t grow out-of-control. Ganglioneuroblastoma, on the other hand, is a cancerous tumor that contains immature neuroblasts (nerve cells found in the embryo). This tumor can grow and spread abnormally.
Treatment for ganglioneuroblastoma is similar to that of neuroblastoma.
What causes neuroblastoma?
The short answer is that it’s caused by genetic abnormalities in the cells. It is estimated that as many as 20 percent of neuroblastoma cases result from an inherited mutation, followed by a second mutation occurring after birth, which together initiate uncontrolled cell growth.
The remainder of the cases arises from two acquired mutations after birth. Because the tumor occurs very early in childhood, it is doubtful that any environmental exposures the child has incurred could be linked to the development of the tumor.
Research is being conducted to determine if maternal exposure to any toxic substances, environmental pollution, or radiation during pregnancy could have any link to the child developing neuroblastoma.
What are the symptoms of neuroblastoma?
Each child may experience symptoms differently. And the symptoms of neuroblastoma vary greatly depending on size, location, and spread of the tumor.
Your child’s symptoms may include:
- an abdominal mass, either felt during an examination or seen as a swollen abdomen
- tumors in the face or head that cause swelling and bruising of the area around the eyes and uncontrolled eye movement
- compression of the kidney or bladder by the tumor that causes changes in urination
- Pain, limping, paralysis, or weakness caused by bone or bone marrow involvement, or spinal cord tumor growth
- cough or shortness of breath caused by a tumor in the chest
- diarrhea caused by a substance produced by the tumor
- high blood pressure and increased heart rate, depending on location of the tumor and the organs the tumor compresses
- weight loss or poor appetite