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Neuroblastoma is a cancer that develops from immature nerve cells or neuroblasts, usually found in several areas of the body. This disease most commonly affects children age 5 or younger, but it may rarely occur in older children.

Neuroblastoma usually arises in and around the adrenal glands, which are similar to nerve cells and are located above the kidneys. However, it can also develop in other areas, such as the abdomen, chest, neck, and near the spine – especially where there are groups of nerve cells.

Some forms of neuroblastoma go away on their own, while others may require several treatments. Your child’s treatment options will depend on several factors.

Causes of Neuroblastoma

Cancer growth begins with a genetic mutation that allows normal cells to continue growing without responding to the signals to stop. Cancer cells grow and multiply out of control. The accumulating abnormal cells then form a tumor.

Neuroblastoma begins in neuroblasts – immature nerve cells which a fetus produces as part of its development process. Neuroblasts will turn into nerve cells and cells that form the adrenal glands as the fetus matures.

It is not clear what causes the initial genetic mutation that leads to neuroblastoma. Most neuroblasts mature by birth, although a small number of immature neuroblasts can be found in newborns. In most cases, neuroblasts may mature or disappear. However, others form a tumor, which is a neuroblastoma.

When to See a Doctor for Neuroblastoma

Consult a pediatrician if your child has symptoms of neuroblastoma. Below are possible several tests and screening procedures recommended by your doctor to diagnose the condition:

  • Physical test. Your child’s doctor will perform a physical exam to check for any signs and symptoms. He or she will ask questions about your child’s habits and behavior.
  • Urine and blood tests. This test may be used to pinpoint the cause of your child’s symptoms. This type of test may also be used to check for high levels of certain chemicals that result from neuroblastoma cells producing excess catecholamines.
  • Imaging tests. This test may reveal a mass that can indicate a tumor. Imaging tests may include X-rays, ultrasound, CT scan, metaiodobenzylguanidine (MIBG) scan and MRI.
  • Taking a sample of tissue for testing. If a tumor is found, the doctor may want to take a tissue sample for laboratory testing (biopsy). Specialized tests on the tissue sample can show the types of cells involved in the tumor and the specific genetic characteristics of cancer cells. This information helps your child’s doctor develop a treatment plan for your child.
  • Taking a sample of bone marrow for testing. Your child may also have bone marrow biopsy and bone marrow aspiration procedures to see if it has spread to the bone marrow.

Symptoms of Neuroblastoma

SIgns and symptoms of neuroblastoma vary greatly – depending on which part of the body is affected. Neuroblastoma in the abdomen is the most common and may cause symptoms such as:

  • Abdominal pain
  • A mass under the skin that is not tender when touched
  • Changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation

Neuroblastoma in the chest can cause signs and symptoms such as:

  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain
  • Changes to the eye, including drooping eyelids and unequal pupil size

Other signs and symptoms that may arise include:

  • Fever
  • Bone pain
  • Back pain
  • Lumps under the skin
  • Dark circles resembling bruises around the eyes
  • Weight loss for no apparent reason
  • Eyeballs that protrude from the sockets (proptosis)

Treatment for Neuroblastoma

The treatment plan for your child’s condition depends on the risk category. Your doctor may recommend the following choice of treatment: 

1. Surgery

Surgery to remove cancer cells. In children with low-risk neuroblastoma, surgery to remove the tumor may be the only treatment needed. 

Other treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation, may then be used to kill any remaining cancer cells.

2. Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy targets rapidly growing cells in the body, including cancer cells.

Children with intermediate-risk neuroblastoma often receive a combination of chemotherapy drugs before surgery to increase the likelihood of the entire tumor removal. 

Children with high-risk neuroblastoma usually receive high-dose of chemotherapy drugs to shrink the tumor and kill cancer cells that have spread elsewhere in the body.

3. Radiation Therapy

Children with low or intermediate risk neuroblastoma may receive radiation therapy if surgery and chemotherapy have not been fully successful.

Children with high-risk neuroblastoma may receive radiation therapy after chemotherapy and surgery to prevent cancer recurrence.

4. Bone Marrow Transplant

Children with high-risk neuroblastoma may receive a transplant using stem cells collected from bone marrow.

5. Immunotherapy

Children with high-risk neuroblastoma may receive immunotherapy drugs that stimulate the immune system to kill the neuroblastoma cells.

Treatment Cost for Neuroblastoma

Treatment cost depends on the diagnosis method used, medications, hospital, and your choice of child’s doctor.

For more details regarding the estimated treatment cost at home or abroad, contact Smarter Health.

Prevention of Neuroblastoma

You can lower the risk of cancer by implementing lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a healthy weight or quitting smoking. However, it is unclear how to prevent cancer in children.

The only known risk factors for neuroblastoma are age and heredity, which, of course, cannot be changed. There are no known environmental or lifestyle-related causes of neuroblastoma at this time.

Several studies suggest that having mothers take prenatal multivitamins or folic acid may help lower the risk of the condition, but further research is needed to confirm this.

Getting treatment from a doctor during pregnancy is an important thing to do for the health of your baby.

Home Remedies for Neuroblastoma

As a parent, you may feel mixed emotions after learning that your child has been diagnosed with cancer. Try to stay strong and find the best cancer treatment method for your child. 

If your child is admitted to an outpatient care, take the following steps:

  • Gather all the information you need about cancer and neuroblastoma.
  • Find friends and family who can help take care of your child 
  • Get to know families with children with cancer. Support groups will help understand how you feel.
  • Young children cannot understand what happens to them while undergoing cancer treatment. Try to maintain a regular routine as much as possible.
  • Set up appointments so that your child can set a nap time every day. You should also set regular mealtimes. Spare some time for your child to play when she or he feels like it. If your child has to spend time in the hospital, bring their favorite items that can help him or her feel more comfortable.
  • Ask your health care team about other ways to comfort your child during treatment.

Make an appointment with a pediatrician through Smarter Health if your child has symptoms of neuroblastoma. Smarter Health‘s online consultation (teleconsultation) service allows you to seek treatment whenever you need it without leaving the house – thus minimizing the spread of COVID-19.

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