This rare type of cancerous tumor is most often found in children under the age of five. Neuroblastomas start in the nerve cells of the sympathetic nervous system, which includes the spine, neck, chest, abdomen and pelvis. They are also commonly found in the adrenal glands, located on top of the kidneys. While rare, understanding this type of cancer can help you identify the symptoms and seek medical attention when needed.
Causes of Neuroblastoma
According to the American Cancer Society, neuroblastomas account for six percent of all childhood cancers. About 800 new cases are diagnosed each year in the U.S.
The early form of a nerve cell is called a neuroblast. As a fetus develops, neuroblasts grow into mature nerve cells. But if they don’t develop correctly, instead of becoming mature nerve cells they will continue to grow and divide. These abnormal cells can accumulate and develop into a tumor known as a neuroblastoma.
This type of cancer is usually diagnosed in children under the age of five. While some suspect a genetic cause for this gene mutation, no cause has been officially identified.
The tumor is usually identified after a pediatrician or parent feels or notices an unusual lump. Symptoms include:
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Poor appetite
- Abnormal blood pressure
- Noticeable mass
How to Treat the Tumor
A urine test and imaging such as a CT or MRI is used to make an initial diagnosis. A biopsy will then be performed to confirm the diagnosis by looking at the tissue under a microscope.
These tests are able to determine the size, location and stage of the cancer. How serious the cancer is as well as the child’s age and characteristics of the tumor will determine the treatment plan.
Children labeled as low-risk exhibit no symptoms. Doctors will closely monitor the tumor to see if it goes away on its own or if the cells mature into normal cells. Surgery to remove the tumor may also be required.
Intermediate-risk patients will require surgery to remove the tumor and a moderate course of chemotherapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
Those with the most aggressive form of the disease are considered high-risk. These patients require surgery and a high dose of chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells. Combination therapies may also be used, including:
- A stem cell transplant can help the body replace the bone marrow that becomes damaged during chemotherapy.
- Immunotherapy helps improve the body’s ability to destroy cancer cells on its own.
- Radiation can prevent cancer recurrence.
To learn more about this childhood cancer or to schedule an appointment, contact the professionals at ENT of Athens today.