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Neuroblastoma is a type of cancer that affects children. Cancer is a growth of abnormal cells. The cells grow out of control and destroy nearby tissue.
This cancer starts in immature cells that normally become part of the child's nervous system. Because nerves grow all over the body, the tumour can start in many different places.
It's most common in the belly. It may start in the adrenal glands, organs that sit above the kidneys. It can also happen in the chest, the neck, or the nerves that run along the spinal column. It can spread to the liver, bones, skin, and other parts of the body.
Doctors don't always know why someone gets neuroblastoma. Most of the time, these tumours form because the genes of immature nerve cells are damaged.
In rare cases, it may run in families.
You or the doctor may feel a mass in your child's belly. If the tumour has spread, you may notice changes like swelling or dark circles around the eyes, or bluish areas on the skin. Other symptoms may include:
Sometimes there are no clear symptoms, but your child may seem more tired or not want to eat.
The doctor will ask about your child's past health. He or she will do a physical examination.
Your child may have several imaging tests. An ultrasound test may be the first test used. CT or MRI scans can show the size of the tumour and if it's spread.
Your child may have other tests, such as:
Sometimes neuroblastoma is found on an imaging test, like an ultrasound, before a baby is born.
After the tumour is removed and more imaging tests are done, the doctor will talk with you about the stage of your child's cancer. Stage 1 means that the tumour was only in one area and that the surgeon removed all of the cancer that he or she could find. Stages 2 through 4 describe if the cancer has spread a little or to other parts of the body. There are a few special stages as well. For example, there's a stage for infants with limited spread in the skin, liver, or bone marrow.
Your child will also be assigned a risk group. It's another way to describe how quickly the tumour is growing. The groups are low risk, intermediate risk, and high risk. Risk is based on your child's age, the stage of the neuroblastoma, and lab reports. Your child's risk group will be used to plan your child's treatment.
In some low-risk cases, the tumour may go away on its own. Doctors will watch it carefully to see if it grows or shrinks.
Most of the time, a doctor will remove the tumour with surgery.
In some intermediate-risk and most high-risk cases, your child will have chemotherapy (chemo). Chemo is medicine that destroys cancer cells. Your child may start chemo even before surgery.
Radiation therapy may be used for tumours that have spread or that look like they might spread. It uses high-energy rays, such as X-rays, to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumours in the body. Other treatments may include high-dose chemotherapy followed by a stem cell transplant, and other medicines, such as immunotherapy.
Ask your doctor about having your child take part in a clinical trial. A clinical trial is a study of a new or different way to treat cancer. People in clinical trials get the latest treatments for their cancer and are closely watched. For more information, call the Canadian Cancer Society's Cancer Information Service toll-free at 1-888-939-3333.
Current as of: March 1, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & Eugenia Chang, MD - Pediatrics, Hematology Oncology & Brian D. O'Brien MD - Internal Medicine
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