Neuroblastoma is a rare disease in which a solid tumour caused by uncontrolled or abnormal cell growth is formed by special nerve cells called neuroblasts. Generally, these immature cells grow and mature into functioning nerve cells. But in neuroblastoma, they become cancer cells instead. It is a cancer that often forms in childhood, though it is usually diagnosed after it has spread. Neuroblastoma may be caused by genes. It can develop in other areas of the abdomen and in the chest, neck and near the spine, where groups of nerve cells exist. Children diagnosed with neuroblastoma are usually younger than 5 years old, though it may rarely occur in older children.
Symptoms related to Neuroblastoma
Signs and symptoms of neuroblastoma vary depending on what part of the body is affected. Symptoms of neuroblastoma in the abdomen are:
Symptoms of neuroblastoma in the chest are:
Other signs of neuroblastoma include:
Tests and diagnosis of neuroblastoma
If your doctor suspects neuroblastoma, he may suggest the following tests and procedures to diagnose neuroblastoma:
Treatment options for neuroblastoma
- Full body check-up: Your child's doctor conducts a physical exam to check out any signs and symptoms.
- Urine and blood tests: These tests may identify the cause of any signs and symptoms your child is experiencing. Urine tests may be used to check for high levels of certain chemicals that result from the neuroblastoma cells producing excess catecholamine.
- Imaging tests: Imaging tests such as X-ray, ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) scan, metaiodobenzylguanidine (MIBG) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may reveal a mass that can indicate a tumour.
- Removing a sample of tissue for testing: If a mass is found, your child's doctor may want to remove a sample of the tissue for laboratory testing which is medically known as biopsy. This helps the doctor devise an individualized treatment plan.
- Removing a sample of bone marrow for testing: Your child may also undergo bone marrow biopsy and bone marrow aspiration procedures to see if neuroblastoma has spread to the bone marrow.
The doctors are very selective in choosing the treatment plan because it can affect your child’s prognosis. There are various treatment options for neuroblastoma, including:
- Surgery: Oncologists use various surgical tools to remove cancer cells. In children with low-risk neuroblastoma, surgery to remove the tumour may be the only treatment needed.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses chemicals to destroy cancer cells. This therapy attacks rapidly growing cells in the body, including cancer cells. Children with moderate neuroblastoma often receive a combination of chemotherapy drugs before surgery.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to execute cancer cells. Children with low to moderate risk of neuroblastoma may receive radiation therapy if surgery and chemotherapy haven't been helpful.
- Stem cell transplant: Children with high-risk neuroblastoma may receive a transplant using their own blood stem cells.
- Immunotherapy: This therapy uses drugs that work by stimulating your body's immune system to help fight cancer cells.
It’s natural for you to go through a range of emotions when your child is diagnosed with neuroblastoma cancer. In the middle of this emotional roller coaster, you’re expected to make wise decisions about your child’s treatment.