Neuroblastoma is a cancer that develops from immature nerve cells found in several areas of the body. Neuroblastoma most commonly appears in and around the adrenal glands. However, it can also develop in areas of the abdomen, chest, neck and near the spine close to groups of nerve cells.
Neuroblastoma mostly affects children aged 5 or younger but it can rarely occur in older children.
Some forms of neuroblastoma may resolve on their own while others may require multiple treatments.
Symptoms of neuroblastoma vary relative to the part of the body that is affected.
Symptoms of neuroblastoma in the abdomen:
- Abdominal pain
- Mass under the skin that isn’t tender
- Changes in bowel movements such as diarrhea
- Swelling in the legs
Symptoms of neuroblastoma in the chest:
- Chest pain
- Drooping eyelids or unequal pupil size
Other symptoms that indicate a neuroblastoma:
- Lumps of tissue under the skin
- Eyeballs that seem to protrude from the sockets (proptosis)
- Dark circles around the eyes
- Back pain
- Unintended weight loss
- Bone pain
Neuroblastoma begins in neuroblasts, which are immature nerve cells that a fetus produces as part of its development process.
Over time, the neuroblasts turn into nerve cells and fibers and the cells that make up the adrenal glands. In most cases, the neuroblasts mature or disappear; however, in some cases the neuroblasts form a tumor – neuroblastoma.
The cause of the initial genetic mutation that leads to neuroblastoma is unclear.
Children with a family history of neuroblastoma may be more prone to develop the disease, although familial neuroblastoma is diagnosed in a small number of cases. The exact cause of neuroblastoma in most cases is undetermined.
Complications of neuroblastoma may include:
- Spread of the cancer (metastasis): Neuroblastoma may spread to the lymph nodes, bone marrow, liver, skin and bones.
- Spinal cord compression: Large tumors can press on the spinal cord causing pain and paralysis.
- Symptoms caused by tumor secretions: Neuroblastomas can secrete certain chemicals that irritate other normal tissue causing symptoms called paraneoplastic syndromes such as rapid eye movements and coordination difficulties as well as abdominal swelling and diarrhea.