Neuroblastoma is a form of cancer, found primarily in children, that attacks the developing nerve cells. In Neuroblastoma, cancerous tumors form from cells called neural crest cells. These cells are similar to those found in the developing nervous systems of an embryo or a fetus.
The human body has two glands known as adrenal glands, one above each kidney. These glands are triangular in shape and are responsible for secreting hormones that control the body's involuntary responses such as blood pressure and heart rate. Neuroblastoma can start in the bundle of nerves in the adrenals, as well as in the nerve groups in other parts of the body responsible for the body's involuntary responses.
There are two types of tumors that can be found in these nerve tissues. The first is GanglioNeuroblastoma, which consists of the cancerous nerve tissue mentioned above. These are the tumors of Neuroblastoma. The second is a tumor that resembles Neuroblastoma, but consists of mature nerve cells. These tumors are referred to as Ganglioneuromas and are not cancer.
The accepted method for determining the severity of a case of Neuroblastoma is known as the International Neuroblastoma Staging System, or the INSS. The disease can be ranked on the INSS scale of 1 to 4, with 1 being the earliest stage of the disease and 4 being the most advanced. The following is a description of the symptoms and progression of the disease as seen in each stage:
When doctors look for the location of lymph nodes on different sides of the body, they are referring to the midline, which is shown by the thick black line running down the middle of the body in the diagram below. If the disease is found on both sides (right and left) of the black line, it is said to be on “both sides” of the body.
The symptoms of Neuroblastoma depend on the age of the child and the origin of the disease. The majority of the symptoms are a result of the effect of the tumors on the body as opposed to the disease itself.
The general symptoms associated with Neuroblastoma include:
These symptoms occur often in children and can resemble a cold or flu. If your child is exhibiting any of these symptoms, it does not mean that he or she has Neuroblastoma. It is best to see your doctor anytime your child is feeling ill. Only a doctor can determine if a child has Neuroblastoma.
Some symptoms depend on the location of the tumor. When a tumor exists inside the body, it can put pressure on different nerves and organs, leading to a variety of symptoms.
The prognosis for Neuroblastoma depends greatly on the child's age and the stage of the disease. The farther along the disease has progressed, the more difficult it can be to cure. Children under the age of 1 year tend to demonstrate a greater survival rate.
Unfortunately, diseases in very young children can be difficult to diagnose early on because the child cannot always verbalize a particular complaint.
Every child is different, and there is no universal generalization that can be made as to the future of a patient with Neuroblastoma. Your doctor will best be able to gauge the stage and prognosis of your child's disease. The following is intended to provide an overview of some statistics from the National Cancer Institute regarding past cases of Neuroblastoma.