Neuroblastoma

Neuroblastoma is a type of children's cancer that happens in nerve cells called neuroblasts. These are cells that are left behind from when a baby is growing in the womb. It often starts in the adrenal glands that sit on top of the kidneys (part of the body involved in producing chemicals needed for the body) but can happen anywhere in the body.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of neuroblastoma normally depend on where the cancer – in the form of a tumour, or lump – develops. You might notice swelling in your child’s tummy if it happens around that area, that your child is breathless and has difficulty swelling if it happens in the chest area, or that their legs are weak if the tumour is pressing on the spinal cord.

How is it diagnosed?

Neuroblastoma is normally diagnosed after a number of tests in hospital. They can include urine tests, scans to get a more detailed look at certain areas of the body and a biopsy, where a sample of cells from the affected area is removed so it can be examined more closely. A biopsy is normally done under general anaesthetic, where your child will be put to sleep for the procedure.

These tests aren’t normally painful, but your child will have to keep still for some of them. They may have more than one test on the same day.

Your child’s specialists will be able to work out the stage of cancer from these tests. The stage is the size of the tumour and whether it has spread to other parts of your child’s body.

How is it treated?

The main treatments for neuroblastoma are normally surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Your child’s exact treatment will depend on how far their tumour has spread, so it’s best to talk to their specialist for further information.

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells. Some children need high dose chemotherapy, which is more intensive and can damage the bone marrow, which contains cells that make blood (blood stem cells). If this is the case, these stem cells are collected and stored before treatment, and given back to your child through a drip after their chemotherapy.

Radiotherapy is a treatment where radiation is used to kill cancer cells.

What happens after treatment?

Your child will normally have to have regular follow up appointments at the outpatient clinic, where their specialist will check their progress and make sure their cancer hasn’t come back.

Many children don’t have long-term health problems following treatment, but some do. Talk to your child’s specialist about the potential long-term side effects of your child’s treatment.

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