Neuroblastoma is the most common pediatric solid tumor occurring outside the brain and it is the most common cancer in infants. The tumor is still relatively rare, however. Only about 700 cases are diagnosed each year in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society.
If a neuroblastoma is diagnosed in a young patient, or a possible tumor is detected in a fetus before birth, pediatric tumor specialists can help manage the complex cancer. Neuroblastomas usually form in nerve tissue of the adrenal glands, abdomen, chest or spinal cord. This aggressive tumor often has metastasized by the time it is diagnosed.
Tests and Diagnosis
Neurological and physical exams can detect the effects of a neuroblastoma on spinal cord or nerve function, such as the gait, reflexes or senses. Urine catecholamine analysis may detect presence of the acids from catecholamine breakdown, and a blood chemistry analysis may detect increased levels of dopamine or norepinephrine.
An MIBG scan can detect uptake of radioactive iodine by the neuroblastoma. Other imaging exams include positron emission tomography, ultrasonography, nuclear bone scans, computed tomography scans and magnetic resonance. A biopsy confirms the diagnosis, and bone marrow aspiration and biopsy can confirm whether the neuroblastoma has metastasized to the child’s bones.
Despite its aggressive nature, neuroblastoma is treatable, and outcomes have improved. Children who are younger generally have more positive prognoses, and the 5-year survival rate for those younger than 12 months at diagnosis is 90%. Ensuring that your patient receives a rapid diagnosis and treatment from a multidisciplinary team of specialists who have experience caring for children with neuroblastoma can improve the outlook. We coordinate and provide care for infants, children and adolescents who need high-level attention from multiple subspecialists.
Unless neuroblastoma has metastasized, surgeons manage the tumor with resection. Children also may receive radiation therapy and chemotherapy. High-risk neuroblastoma may be treated with radioactive iodine therapy or high-dose chemotherapy with a stem cell transplant. The Gill Center’s Stem Cell Transplant Program provides advanced transplant services from highly experienced staff in our state-of-the-art, 12-bed unit.
We continue to participate in research to develop new targeted and biologic therapies to treat neuroblastoma and other complex pediatric tumors. Our surgeons are board certified in pediatric surgery, along with either general surgery or a surgical subspecialty.
We work with you and patients’ families to return young patients to their communities, with medical and family support, and we assist with follow-up and long-term care.