Neuroblastoma is a type of cancer that forms in nerve tissue. It develops from immature cells of nerves found in various areas of body. Neuroblastoma usually starts in adrenal glands, located around the kidneys specifically on top. It may also begin in other parts like the chest, neck, or spinal cord where collections of nerve cells are found. The cancer often starts in early childhood, and at times, it can start before a child is born.
Children and patients who have neuroblastoma can show symptoms that vary widely. The symptoms depend on where the cancerous first started and the extent of spreading. The prodromal or first symptoms may include fatigue, irritability, and fever. However, the early symptoms can mimic signs of some other childhood illnesses. This makes it difficult to diagnose neuroblastoma. Most often, neuroblastoma in children is detected when parents or doctors feel abnormal lumps or masses in the body of a child particularly in the abdomen, chest, neck, or spine. Children with neuroblastoma may also show these signs and symptoms;
- Swollen stomach
- Decreased appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Bone pain
- Black eyes
- Pale skin
- Difficult breathing
- Drooping eyelid
- Unequal pupil
- Difficult walking
- Red skin
- Horner’s syndrome or sign of nerve damage
Neuroblastoma begins with mutation of gene that makes normal healthy cells to start growing abnormally without responding to mechanism of stopping cell growth. The cells grow and multiply without control thereby forming a mass of tissue or tumor. Neuroblastoma starts in cells called neuroblasts. These are immature nerve cells, which are made by the fetus as part of its development in the womb. As fetus matures, the neuroblasts begin to turn into nerve cells, fibers, or cells, which make up adrenal glands. At the time of birth, most neuroblasts have matured although some may still be immature. The cause of the gene mutation is not clearly understood.
If a child is suspected to have neuroblastoma, physical examination and tests are conducted to confirm the diagnosis or rule out other possible causes of the symptoms. The tests for neuroblastoma include blood and urine tests, bone scan, or imaging studies such as CT scan, X-rays, or MRI. A biopsy may be performed whereby a small tissue is removed for examination. The tests help locate the tumor and find out about its size. These tests may also help determine whether the cancer has spread to other areas, a process that is referred to as staging.
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