Neuroblastoma is a childhood cancer. It is the most common cancer diagnosed in the first year of life and accounts for around 15% of cancer deaths in children.
- Approximately 100 new cases of neuroblastoma diagnosed every year in the UK
- Of these babies and children, around 50 - approximately half - will have high risk disease
- The long term survival rate for high risk neuroblastoma patients remains less than 40%
Neuroblastoma is the commonest 'solid' cancer diagnosed in babies and children. Neuroblastoma often occurs in the abdomen, usually from the adrenal glands, which are above the kidneys.
Other places it may occur are in the back of the abdomen beside the spine, at the back of the chest and the neck. Neuroblastoma can spread to other parts of the body like the liver, bones and bone marrow, lungs, skin and brain.
Sometimes no symptoms are present at the time of diagnosis, and neuroblastoma is the chance finding in a medical examination of a well baby. The first symptoms of neuroblastoma may be related to the presence of a primary tumour, which depends upon its location.
Tumours situated in the abdomen may cause a swollen belly, stomach pain, constipation, or diarrhoea. A tumour in the chest may cause breathing problems, often similar to a chest infection. A tumour resting on the spinal cord may cause weakness or difficulty walking.
Sometimes neuroblastoma is diagnosed a result of symptoms caused when it has spread to other parts of the body. This is called metastatic disease. These symptoms are often vague and can include fatigue and loss of appetite. Some children experience bone pain, some may have unexplained 'black eyes' or bulging eyes.Many of these symptoms are similar to those of other more common illnesses. Unless a parent or doctor discovers a lump, a diagnosis of neuroblastoma may not be initially considered. Neuroblastoma may occur at any age. It may be present at birth, or even be diagnosed on a scan during pregnancy.
Most patients are of pre-school age, the average age for diagnosis of children affected by neuroblastoma is two years old. Neuroblastoma can also occur in older children and teenagers, or very rarely, in adults.