Cancer of the Week : Featured

Neuroblastoma : The Cancer of the Week

Neuroblastoma is the second most common solid tumour in childhood, affecting children world wide. It is a tumour of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), most often occurring in the abdomen. Neuroblastoma is a cancer of specialised nerve cells, called neural crest cells. These cells are involved in the development of the nervous system and other tissues.

Neuroblastoma can occur anywhere in the body, but it most often occurs in one of the adrenal glands, in the abdomen. In some children, the neuroblastoma occurs in nerve tissue alongside the spinal cord in the neck, chest, abdomen or pelvis. It is the most common form of embryonal tumour. Embryonal tumours are characterised by the proliferation of tissue that is normally only seen in the developing embryo. They are mainly seen in very young children

Survival Neuroblastoma has one of the lowest survival rates of all childhood cancers, with only 67% of patients surviving to five years. Neuroblastoma is also one of the few types of cancer for which survival differs significantly between the sexes – boys have a worse outlook than girls. Infants have a better outlook than older children: those diagnosed before the age of one have five-year survival of 83% compared to only 43% for those in the 1-4 year age group.

Symptoms of neuroblastoma They are generally vague, such as loss of appetite, tiredness and pain in the bones. Other symptoms vary, depending on where the child’s neuroblastoma starts: • If it is in their abdomen, their tummy may be swollen and they may complain of constipation or difficulty passing urine • If the tumour is in the chest or neck area, the child may be breathless and have difficulty swallowing • Occasionally there may be deposits of neuroblastoma in the skin that appear as small, blue-coloured lumps • If the tumour is pressing on the spinal cord, it may cause weakness in the legs.

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