what is neuroblastoma?

Understanding Neuroblastoma: An In-depth Look Into A Childhood Cancer

The term ‘cancer’ itself instills fear and uncertainty, more so when it impacts children. One such pediatric malignancy is Neuroblastoma: a somewhat enigmatic yet vital subject to understand. This article aims to shed light on the intricacies of Neuroblastoma, to help demystify its causes, symptoms, treatments, and how to live in its shadow.

Defining Neuroblastoma: An In-depth Explanation

Neuroblastoma, a malignant tumor often associated with the adrenal glands, is a type of cancer that specifically affects children, primarily those under the age of five. At its core, Neuroblastoma is a result of anomalous growth in nerve cells during fetal development. Although predominantly linked to the adrenal glands— small glands atop the kidneys producing crucial hormones—Neuroblastoma can technically form anywhere along the sympathetic nervous system, a nerve network playing a key role in maintaining body equilibrium.

The biology behind Neuroblastoma involves nerve cells called neuroblasts. Ideally, as embryos develop, these cells mature into functioning components of the nervous system. However, sometimes, a fraction of neuroblasts fails to mature, persisting within the infant even post birth. Such non-specialized cells could potentially manifest into Neuroblastoma.

Causes and Risk Factors

Learning about Neuroblastoma invariably leads to the question: Why does it occur? The exact cause, as is common for many cancers, is unknown. Nevertheless, certain causal relationships and risk factors have been identified.

The pivotal role mutated cells play in Neuroblastoma is generally acknowledged. Specifically, the MYCN gene, when amplified or mutated, significantly contributes to aggressive forms of Neuroblastoma. Although not routinely passed down in families, a small percentage of Neuroblastoma instances display familial predisposition where the mutated gene does get inherited.

The impact of environmental factors, prenatal or postnatal, like exposure to certain chemicals or substances, has been explored. However, a concrete link to Neuroblastoma remains undefined. From numerous studies on identical twins with Neuroblastoma to exploring links with birth anomalies, scientists continue to unfold the labyrinthine etiology of this rare disease.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

A wide array of symptoms, often non-specific and overlapping with common childhood illnesses, complicates Neuroblastoma diagnosis. Fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, and vague pain are a few early signs, while more advanced cases might present neurological deficits, hypertension, and unexplained rapid weight loss.

Laboratory tests, including biopsies and blood tests, form the pivotal first step in diagnosis. Tissue or bone marrow samples help identify the presence of cancer cells, abnormal substances, or tell-tale genetic aberrations.

Advanced diagnostic tools—like CT scans, MRIs, and MIBG scans—visualize the tumor site, its extent, and metastasis if present. This comprehensive diagnostic synthesis helps stage the disease: a critical aspect determining treatment protocols.

Treatment Options and Strategies

Neuroblastoma treatment involves a multidisciplinary approach tailored to the patient’s needs. Surgery, aiming at removing as much tumor as possible, often stands as the first line of treatment. However, in extensive cases, complete removal becomes challenging and may show variable outcomes.

Chemotherapy and radiation therapy complement or, at times, precede surgical intervention. While chemotherapy uses potent drugs to kill or inhibit the growth and replication of cancer cells, radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to achieve similar goals.

Emerging treatments, like immunotherapy and targeted therapies, hold promising potential. These specially designed drugs harness the immune system’s strength, specifically attacking identified abnormalities without damaging normal cells.

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Living with Neuroblastoma: Management and Support

Managing life with Neuroblastoma extends beyond medical treatments. The disease and its treatments may cause long-term side effects, like growth retardation, hearing loss, and hormonal imbalance, necessitating life-long care.

Emotional turmoil is a major aspect for families, requiring adequate support and resources. Counseling and support groups can provide a valuable platform for discussing fears and concerns.

Lifestyle adjustments—including balanced nutrition, regular physical activity, and prompt medical attention to any health change—help manage life with or post Neuroblastoma.


Although less prevalent, Neuroblastoma signifies an important facet of pediatric oncology. This article attempted to clarify what Neuroblastoma is, its causes, diagnostic procedures, treatments, and life post-diagnosis. Early detection and continual research hold the key to combating this formidable foe.


1. What is the age group most affected by Neuroblastoma?
Neuroblastoma primarily affects children under the age of five, with a majority of cases diagnosed by age two.

2. Can Neuroblastoma be prevented?
Given the lack of defined causes, specifically preventable risk factors, Neuroblastoma prevention remains challenging.

3. What is the survival rate for children diagnosed with Neuroblastoma?
The survival rate varies greatly depending on the stage and individual characteristics of the disease. In general, children with low-risk Neuroblastoma have a survival rate above 90%, while high-risk cases have a significantly lower rate.

4. How is the staging of Neuroblastoma done?
Staging involves assessing the tumor’s original site, size, spread, and presence in lymph nodes. The International Neuroblastoma Staging System (INSS) classifies the disease into stages 1 through 4.

5. What are the potential side effects of Neuroblastoma treatments?
Potential side effects range from immediate ones like nausea, fatigue, and hair loss, to long-term effects like growth retardation, hormonal imbalances, and second cancers.