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Neuroblastoma is a relatively uncommon type of cancer, but it is the most common cancer diagnosed in infants. Symptoms can often mimic other conditions. Learn what to watch for and how it is treated.

Adults are not the only ones affected by cancer. Unfortunately, children can also develop cancer. In some cases, children can develop the same types of cancer as adults, such as pediatric brain tumors and leukemia in children. Certain cancers only occur in children.

What Is Neuroblastoma? 

Neuroblastoma is a type of cancer that primarily occurs in children, usually under the age of 10. In fact, most cases of neuroblastoma are found in children before the age of five. According to St Jude’s Children’s Hospital, about 800 children in the United States are diagnosed with neuroblastoma each year. Neuroblastoma is not as common as other types of childhood cancer, such as signs of leukemia in children. Although it is considered relatively rare, it is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in infants. 
 

This type of cancer originates in the neuroblasts, which are immature nerve cells. The cells are made by the growing fetus. Most neuroblasts develop into nerve cells by the time a baby is born. But in some cases, a few neuroblasts are still present in infants. Eventually, those cells also mature into nerve cells. In instances of neuroblastoma, the neuroblasts become cancer cells.

The cause of neuroblastoma is not known. The only risk factor identified appears to be having a close relative, such as a sibling, with the cancer. Since the cause is not known, there is no way to prevent it from occurring.

Neuroblastoma Symptoms

According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, commonly neuroblastoma starts in the abdomen and develops into a solid tumor, but it can also start in other areas of the body, such as the bones and chest.  

The symptoms of neuroblastoma vary depending on how far the cancer has spread and what part of the body it started in. Since it occurs most commonly in babies and they cannot tell you what hurts or how they feel, it can be difficult to determine the symptoms.  

Although it can vary, early symptoms can include fever, loss of appetite and irritability.

The symptoms listed above are vague and can occur with many other conditions. Because symptoms may be general, an accurate diagnosis may sometimes be delayed.

In some children, symptoms are more specific and are related to the part of the body in which the cancer started. For example, neuroblastoma that originates in the chest may cause chest pain, shortness of breath and wheezing. In children who have neuroblastoma that originates in the abdomen, they may present with abdominal pain, diarrhea and swollen legs.  

Additional symptoms may also include lumps under the skin, weight loss, fever and bone pain. It is essential for parents to understand that not all children who have some of the symptoms above are diagnosed with neuroblastoma. It is, however, always better to have unexplained symptoms checked out by a pediatrician to be on the safe side. 

Neuroblastoma is diagnosed through a variety of tests. Blood tests are usually performed to check for abnormalities, such as high levels of catecholamine, which is excreted by the cancer cells. Additional diagnostic tests may include ultrasounds, CT scans and a biopsy.

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