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Neuroblastoma is a type of cancer that forms in the nerve tissue of the adrenal gland, neck, chest or spinal cord.

It most often affects children under the age of 5 and begins in the adrenal glands, located just above the kidneys. 

As the tumor grows, it often causes a lump in the abdomen, chest or neck. It may also spread to the bone and cause pain. Bone pain and a lump are the most common symptoms of neuroblastoma.

Neuroblastoma symptoms

Call your child’s pediatrician or primary care provider if you notice any of the following signs or symptoms:

  • Lump in the abdomen, chest or neck
  • Bulging eyes
  • Dark circles around eyes
  • Bone pain
  • Swollen stomach and trouble breathing in babies
  • Painless, bluish lumps under the skin in babies
  • Weakness or trouble moving a part of the body

Neuroblastoma risk groups

  • Treatment for neuroblastoma is based on which risk group a patient’s cancer falls into. There are three risk groups: low risk, intermediate risk and high risk. These groups are used to help identify how likely a child is to be cured and how aggressive the treatment response should be.
  • A patient’s risk group is determined by a number of factors, including the following:
    • The patient’s age
    • What stage the cancer is
    • The structure and make-up of the tumor
  • Low-risk and intermediate-risk neuroblastoma patients have a good chance of being cured.

Neuroblastoma: what you should know

  • About 90 percent of all cases of neuroblastoma are diagnosed in children under the age of 5.
  • A genetic mutation, inherited from a parent, increases the risk of neuroblastoma. For children who inherit this gene mutation, neuroblastoma usually occurs at a younger age, and more than one tumor may form. Parents with known mutations may wish to seek genetic counseling.
  • Treatment for neuroblastoma that comes back (recurrent neuroblastoma) is primarily based on whether it occurs in one spot or has spread.
  • Olfactory neuroblastoma (esthesioneuroblastoma) is a rare type of neuroblastoma that grows in the olfactory part of the brain. It affects the sense of smell. It most commonly occurs in teenage boys who are experiencing nasal obstruction. The most effective treatment for this type of neuroblastoma is endoscopic surgery performed by skull base surgeons, followed by radiation.

How can I get help for neuroblastoma?

If your child has any of the signs of neuroblastoma listed above, contact your child’s doctor immediately. After seeing your child and running diagnostic tests, your pediatrician may refer you to the pediatric cancer experts at Rush for additional tests and exams as needed.

Care for neuroblastoma at Rush

Because treatment is based on a child’s risk group, caring for children with neuroblastoma requires a team of doctors who are experts in treating this childhood cancer. Your child’s pediatric oncologist will lead this team of cancer specialists, which can include a pediatric radiation oncologist and pediatric surgeon.

Your child’s doctor will work with you — and the team — to determine the best course of treatment for your child’s needs.

Treatment will include some of the following, either in combination or alone:

  • Observation: For babies under 6 months, neuroblastoma may disappear without treatment. In these cases, you and your doctor may choose to monitor your baby’s condition to see whether symptoms appear or change before beginning treatment.
  • Surgery: If your child needs surgery, a pediatric surgeon will remove as much of the tumor as safely possible.
  • Radiation therapy: A radiation oncologist will work with you and your child’s team to determine the best form of radiation therapy for your child’s needs. For children with high-risk neuroblastoma, radioactive iodine may also be administered via IV to help kill the neuroblastoma cells.
  • Chemotherapy: Your child may receive chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells, depending on the type and stage of the cancer.
    • High-dose chemotherapy and radiation therapy with stem-cell rescue: For patients with high-risk neuroblastoma, your child’s doctor may recommend your child’s stem cells be collected and frozen. This is done so they can be used after high-dose chemotherapy and radiation therapy to restore your child’s blood and promote quicker recovery.
  • Clinical trials: More than 80 percent of children with cancer in the U.S. participate in clinical research trials. Enrolling in these research trials is considered the standard of care and offers your child the best chance for a cure.

Why choose Rush for neuroblastoma care

  • Team-based approach: Pediatric cancer specialists at Rush collaborate to provide team-based care for treating patients with neuroblastoma. This care focuses on creating individualized plans that target the tumor while maintaining your child’s quality of life.
  • Clinical trials: Pediatric cancer patients at Rush have access to the best and newest treatments. Your child will be able to participate in clinical trials through the National Cancer Institute and the Children’s Oncology Group.
  • Advanced radiation capabilities: Radiation therapists at Rush have extensive experience and access to advanced radiation technologies. They are able to conform radiation beams to tumors with great precision. This precision means tumors can receive higher doses of radiation while healthy tissues surrounding the tumors receive less radiation.
  • Helping children cope: The Child Life Program at Rush Children’s Hospital uses therapeutic play, art and other forms of self-expression to help you and your child cope with the stress of being in a hospital.
  • Alternative therapies: Rush offers alternative, complementary therapies to children over 12 to help address the side effects of cancer care. These therapies include acupuncture, biofeedback and massage.
  • Accredited care: The Rush University Cancer Center received the Outstanding Achievement Award from the American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer in its most recent survey. Rush has received this triennial award all four times since the award was created in 2004. The prestigious award recognizes programs that excel in providing quality cancer care.

Departments and programs that treat this condition