Pediatric neuroblastoma

A pediatric neuroblastoma (neu·​ro·​blas·​to·​ma) is a type of tumor that grows in nerve cells while a baby is still in the womb. Children’s Health℠ offers care from UT Southwestern Medical Center physicians who are among the world’s top pediatric cancer specialists. We use state-of-the-art methods for treating neuroblastoma, including a new form of radiation therapy.

What is a pediatric neuroblastoma?

Neuroblastoma tumors usually form in nerve tissue on the kidneys, abdomen, neck, chest, pelvis or spinal cord. These tumors tend to spread to other parts of the body, including bones and bone marrow.

Treatment is most effective when we detect the cancer early. Kids younger than 18 months often do very well, even when their cancer has spread.

What are the different types of a pediatric neuroblastoma?

Neuroblastoma includes several types of tumors. These types are defined by whether the tumor continues to grow or not.


This type of neuroblastoma stops growing, which means it isn’t considered cancer anymore. It becomes an extra lump of tissue that we remove through surgery.


Traditional neuroblastoma continues to grow, which means it is cancerous. We have multiple ways of treating this type, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.


This type is like a combination of the other two. Some of the tumor cells stop growing, while some continue. We treat these the same way we treat neuroblastomas.

What are the signs and symptoms of a pediatric neuroblastoma?

In most cases, doctors notice a lump or swelling in the child’s abdomen during a regular check-up. The tumor may also cause pain or interfere with other parts of the body.

Common symptoms include:

  • A mass or lump in the abdomen
  • Bone pain
  • Resistance to walking
  • Constipation
  • Fever

How is a pediatric neuroblastoma diagnosed?

DNA testing

First, we take a sample of the tumor to study its cells and DNA. This tells us what kind of tumor it is and helps us plan treatment. For example, some neuroblastomas have a genetic mutation that makes the cancer more dangerous. When we see that mutation in the DNA test, we know to treat it more aggressively.


We also do tests to see whether the cancer has spread. These include a CT scan, a bone marrow sample and an MIBG scan. The MIBG scan is a special test that helps us detect neuroblastoma cells that are otherwise hard to find.

Risk level

We use factors like your child’s age, the type of tumor they have, the tumor’s location and whether it has spread to decide the level of risk your child’s cancer poses.

What causes a pediatric neuroblastoma?

No one is exactly sure what causes these tumors. They form while a baby is growing in the womb.

How is a pediatric neuroblastoma treated?

We base our treatment plan on what risk group your child falls in.

Risk groups

Low risk

This often means the cancer is limited to a small mass in one place. We can usually treat it with surgery alone.

Intermediate risk

In this case, the cancer has spread somewhat. We treat it with surgery and chemotherapy.

High risk

This means the cancer has spread or has characteristics that make it especially dangerous. We use a combination of treatments for these cases.

  • We start with chemotherapy, followed by surgery.
  • After that, we can do a stem cell transplant to help your child’s body rebuild cells.
  • Then we use radiation therapy on the spots where cancer remains.
  • Lastly, we use a special drug that targets neuroblastoma cells in order to kill them.

MIBG therapy

If the cancer returns after treatment, we can use a new kind of radiation therapy called MIBG therapy for some children. We are also doing a study to see if this therapy is effective in the early stages of treatment.

Pediatric neuroblastoma doctors and providers

Physicians at Children’s Health are UT Southwestern Medical Center faculty members who focus specifically on pediatric tumors, and we have spent decades helping children with neuroblastoma. Our experience and teamwork mean we can act quickly to treat your child’s cancer and reduce their pain and symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the survival rate for pediatric neuroblastoma?

    About 60% of children with neuroblastoma are cancer-free after treatment.

  • Why should my child be treated at Children’s Health?

    We have seen more children with neuroblastoma than almost any other center in the region. This means we can match your child with the treatment and approach that gives them the best chance of success.

    We also do research to study and develop new, more effective treatments. Our academic affiliation with UT Southwestern Medical Center enables us to pursue new treatments and participate in clinical trials of promising new therapies. Through those trials, your child may be eligible for a breakthrough treatment they can’t access somewhere else.