About Neuroblastoma

Overview

Neuroblastoma is a cancer that forms in nerve cells. According to the American Cancer Society, neuroblastoma affects immature cells or cells that are still developing and typically forms in the nerves of the adrenal glands. Adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys. This type of cancer typically affects children. According to Mayo Clinic, neuroblastoma is the most common form of cancer diagnosed in babies. The prognosis is usually good in children under the age of 1. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 650 people are diagnosed with neuroblastoma every year.

Symptoms

According to the National Cancer Institute, the most common symptoms of neuroblastoma are lumps in the stomach, neck or chest; bulging eyes; bone pain; swollen abdomen; bluish lumps under the skin of infants; and weakness or paralysis of a body part. Less common symptoms include fever, shortness of breath, fatigue, bruising or bleeding, small red spots under the skin, high blood pressure, involuntary eye movements, and swelling of the lower extremities.

Causes

Mayo Clinic states most neuroblastoma cases start with a genetic abnormality. Normal healthy cells continue to grow without stopping. The mass of cells form a tumor and eventually spread to other areas of the body. Mayo Clinic states the cause of the genetic mutation isn’t known, but it is believed to occur during pregnancy or before conception.

Complications

According to Mayo Clinic, complications include spreading of the cancer, spinal cord compression due to growth of the tumor and paraneoplastic syndromes such as uncontrolled eye movements, poor coordination, abdominal swelling and diarrhea. Neuroblastoma can spread to the bone, lymph nodes, eyes, liver, skin and tissue around the spinal cord.

Diagnosis and Staging

Mayo Clinic states the following tests and procedures are used to diagnosis neuroblastoma: physical exam, urine and blood tests, X-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans, MRIs, and biopsies of tumors and bone marrow. Staging of the cancer is done after neuroblastoma is diagnosed. According to Mayo Clinic, staging is a measurement of the advancement of cancer. Stages of neuroblastoma include Stage I, IIA, IIB, III, IV and IVS. Stage I represents a localized tumor with little indication of spreading. This stage of neuroblastoma can most likely be completely removed with surgery. Each stage is progressively worse, with Stage IV indicating the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. According to Mayo Clinic, Stage IVS is a special category applying only to babies under the age of 1. Stage IVS neuroblastomas do not behave like typical neuroblastoma cancers. The reason for the difference is unknown. Stage IVS neuroblastoma has spread to other areas of the body, but a full recovery is still possible.

Treatment

Treatment will vary depending on the age of the patient and the progression of the cancer. According to Mayo Clinic, treatments for neuroblastoma include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and stem cell transplant.

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