Neuroblastoma is a cancer disease that originates in the sympathetic nervous system that extends along the vertebral vertebrae and branches to, for example, the adrenal glands. Since this nervous system is widely distributed in many parts of the body, neuroblastoma can be found in several different places, but it is most common to get it in one of the adrenal glands.
Every year, about 15-20 children get neuroblastoma. Most are for two years. Some children are born with the disease.
There are many different variants of neuroblastoma. Children under 18 months usually get a more easily treated variant of neuroblastoma. A form that is most common in the youngest children can grow away by itself without treatment and only needs to be followed by controls. Children who are older than 18 months often receive a variant that requires more intensive treatment for neuroblastoma in children and which may be more difficult to get rid of.
More recently, physicians have been able to adapt treatment more effectively to each child’s needs as knowledge of how different neuroblastoma cells look in detail.
Symptoms of Neuroblastoma in Children
The disease is sometimes detected by the parents or a doctor detecting a lump under the skin somewhere on the child’s body. Some children may have had diarrhea, fever or sweating due to hormones secreted by the cancer tumor.
The doctor usually takes blood and urine tests as part of the examination. A tissue sample, a biopsy, is taken from the suspected tumor and examined for the doctor to make an accurate diagnosis. Other investigations a child can do, for example, ultrasound, MRI, bone marrow samples and an isotope study also called scintigraphy and can show if the disease has spread. Then a particular fluid is injected into the blood. The fluid is collected where there is cancer. The doctor can see that with a so-called gamma camera.
Treatment for Neuroblastoma in Children
Sometimes the neuroblastoma may need surgery. It is common for different treatments to be combined if the child needs more treatment. Treatments that can occur are cytostatic, surgery, radiation and high-dose treatment with stem cell support.
In neuroblastoma, treatment with high doses of vitamin A can cause the cancer cells to start behaving like normal cells. There is also immunotherapy with drugs that can make the child’s own immune system counteract cancer.
All children may go on post-check-ups quite often for several years, partly to find out if the disease is coming back, and partly to see how the child develops and works after treatment. Some children need to go on checks even when they have grown up.