Neuroblastoma is a cancer of immature nerve cells that most often occurs in young children. It usually begins in the adrenal glands but can form in the neck, chest, abdomen, and spine. Explore the links on this page to learn more about neuroblastoma treatment, research, and clinical trials.

  • Neuroblastoma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in neuroblasts (immature nerve tissue) in the adrenal glands, neck, chest, or spinal cord.
  • Neuroblastoma is sometimes caused by a gene mutation (change) passed from the parent to the child.
  • Signs and symptoms of neuroblastoma include a lump in the abdomen, neck, or chest or bone pain.
  • Tests that examine many different body tissues and fluids are used to diagnose neuroblastoma.
  • A biopsy is done to diagnose neuroblastoma.
  • Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

Neuroblastoma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in neuroblasts (immature nerve tissue) in the adrenal glands, neck, chest, or spinal cord.

Neuroblastoma often begins in the nerve tissue of the adrenal glands. There are two adrenal glands, one on top of each kidney in the back of the upper abdomen. The adrenal glands make important hormones that help control heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, and the way the body reacts to stress. Neuroblastoma may also begin in nerve tissue in the neck, chest, abdomen, or pelvis.

Neuroblastoma most often begins in infancy. It is usually diagnosed between the first month of life and age five years. It is found when the tumor begins to grow and cause signs or symptoms. Sometimes it forms before birth and is found during an ultrasound of the baby.

By the time cancer is diagnosed, it has usually metastasized (spread). Neuroblastoma spreads most often to the lymph nodes, bones, bone marrow, liver, and skin in infants and children. Adolescents may also have metastasis to the lungs and brain.

Signs and symptoms of neuroblastoma include a lump in the abdomen, neck, or chest or bone pain.

The most common signs and symptoms of neuroblastoma are caused by the tumor pressing on nearby tissues as it grows or by cancer spreading to the bone. These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by neuroblastoma or by other conditions.

Check with your child’s doctor if your child has any of the following:

  • Lump in the abdomen, neck, or chest.
  • Bone pain.
  • Swollen stomach and trouble breathing (in infants).
  • Bulging eyes.
  • Dark circles around the eyes (“black eyes”).
  • Painless, bluish lumps under the skin (in infants).
  • Weakness or paralysis (loss of ability to move a body part).

Less common signs and symptoms of neuroblastoma include the following:

  • Fever.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Feeling tired.
  • Easy bruising or bleeding.
  • Petechiae (flat, pinpoint spots under the skin caused by bleeding).
  • High blood pressure.
  • Severe watery diarrhea.
  • Horner syndrome (droopy eyelid, smaller pupil, and less sweating on one side of the face).
  • Jerky muscle movements.

Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.

The prognosis and treatment options depend on the following:

  • Age at the time of diagnosis.
  • Tumor histology (the shape, function, and structure of the tumor cells).
  • The child’s risk group.
  • Whether there are certain changes in the genes.
  • Where in the body the tumor started.
  • The stage of the cancer.
  • How the tumor responds to treatment.
  • How much time passed between diagnosis and when the cancer recurred (for recurrent cancer).

There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.

Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood:

  • Tissue. The cancer spreads from where it began by growing into nearby areas.
  • Lymph system. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the lymph system. The cancer travels through the lymph vessels to other parts of the body.
  • Blood. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the blood. The cancer travels through the blood vessels to other parts of the body.

The following stages are used for neuroblastoma:

Stage 1

In stage 1, the cancer is in only one area and all of the cancer that can be seen is completely removed during surgery.

Stage 2

Stage 2 is divided into stages 2A and 2B.

  • Stage 2A: The cancer is in only one area and all of the cancer that can be seen is not completely removed during surgery.
  • Stage 2B: The cancer is in only one area and all of the cancer that can be seen may or may not be completely removed during surgery. Cancer cells are found in the lymph nodes near the tumor.

Stage 3

In stage 3, one of the following is true:

  • the cancer cannot be completely removed during surgery and has spread from one side of the body to the other side and may also have spread to nearby lymph nodes; or
  • the cancer is on one side of the body and has spread to lymph nodes on the other side of the body; or
  • the cancer is in the middle of the body and has spread to tissues or lymph nodes on both sides of the body, and the cancer cannot be removed by surgery.

Stage 4

Stage 4 is divided into stages 4 and 4S.

  • In stage 4, the cancer has spread to distant lymph nodes or to other parts of the body.

In stage 4S, the child is younger than 12 months, and:

  • the cancer has spread to the skin, liver, and/or bone marrow; or
  • the cancer is in only one area and all of the cancer that can be seen may or may not be completely removed during surgery; or
  • cancer cells may be found in the lymph nodes near the tumor.

To Learn More About Neuroblastoma

For more information from the National Cancer Institute about neuroblastoma, see the following:

  • Neuroblastoma Home Page
  • Neuroblastoma Screening
  • Computed Tomography (CT) Scans and Cancer
  • Drugs Approved for Neuroblastoma
  • Targeted Cancer Therapies
  • Immunotherapy to Treat Cancer
  • New Approaches to Neuroblastoma Therapy (NANT)Exit Disclaimer

 

What is Cancer?

  • Cancer can start almost anywhere in the human body, which is made up of trillions of cells. Normally, human cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old or become damaged, they die, and new cells take their place.

  • Cancer prevention is action taken to lower the risk of getting cancer. This can include maintaining a healthy lifestyle, avoiding exposure to known cancer-causing substances, and taking medicines or vaccines that can prevent cancer from developing.

  • Cancer can cause many different symptoms. Most often these symptoms are not caused by cancer, but by benign tumors or other problems. If you have symptoms that last for a couple of weeks, your doctor will do a physical exam and order tests or other procedures to find out what is causing your symptoms.