Definition of Neuroblastoma
Neuroblastoma is a malignant (cancerous) tumor that develops from nerve tissue. It occurs in infants and children.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Neuroblastoma can occur in many areas of the body. It develops from the tissues that form the sympathetic nervous system (the part of the nervous system that controls body functions, such as heart rate and blood pressure, digestion, and levels of certain hormones).
The first symptoms are usually fever, a general sick feeling (malaise), and pain. There may also be loss of appetite, weight loss, and diarrhea.
Signs and tests
Signs vary depending on the location of the tumor. Examination of the abdomen with the hands (palpation) may reveal a mass. The liver may be enlarged, if the tumor has spread to the liver. Adrenal gland tumors can cause high blood pressure and a fast heart rate. Lymph nodes may be swollen.
Treatment varies depending on the location of the tumor, how much and where the tumor has spread, and the age of the patient. In certain cases, surgery alone is enough, but often other therapies are needed. Anticancer medications (chemotherapy) may be recommended if the tumor is widespread. Radiation therapy may also be used.
The expected outcome varies. In very young children with neuroblastoma, the tumor may go away on its own, without any treatment, or the tissues of the tumor may mature and develop into a benign (non-cancerous) tumor called a ganglioneuroma, which can be surgically removed. In other cases, the tumor spreads rapidly.
Adam S. Levy, MD, Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore, Bronx, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc. – 6/10/2008