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Neuroblastoma in children

Neuroblastoma en la infància a Vall d'Hebron

Neuroblastoma is one of the most common cancers in children under five, and makes up half of all cancers in babies. It is very unusual for this type of cancer to occur in older children or teenagers. Neuroblastoma starts in embryo cells made up of ganglia from the sympathetic nervous system and adrenal medulla, and therefore may appear in different locations and with many different clinical presentations.


What are neuroblastoma?


It is not currently known what causes them, but they are understood to often be hereditary. Approximately two thirds of neuroblastoma occur in the adrenal glands (found above the kidneys) or near the spinal cord in the nerve cells that control the heart beat, blood pressure and digestion. Neuroblastoma may also appear in the chest, neck or pelvis. During diagnosis they are often found to have already spread; there may be metastasis in the lymph nodes, liver, bones, bone marrow or other organs.

Neuroblastoma may be divided into two types of tumour:

  • Ganglioneuroma, which does not spread but may grow.
  • Ganglioneuroblastoma, which may grow and spread.

The first symptoms of neuroblastoma may be imprecise and include fatigue, weight loss or weight gain. 

Abdominal tumours may cause abdominal pain or difficulty urinating or with bowel movements.

Tumours pressing on the spinal cord may cause weakness in the arms and legs and the patient may find it difficult to move their arms or to walk.

If the tumour has spread to the bones, it may cause pain and, if it has spread around the eyes, it may cause bulging eyes and dark circles. There may also be inflammation or a lump around the affected tissue. Other less common symptoms are weight loss and fever.


Who is affected by neuroblastoma?


Malignant neoplasms in children and teenagers are rare, but they are one of the most important causes of morbidity and mortality in these age groups. Around 1,000 patients under 14 years of age are diagnosed with cancer every year in Spain. Neuroblastoma makes up 10% of cancers in children.




If the doctor  believes the child may have a neuroblastoma, he/she will carry out a very precise examination and request several diagnostic tests to determine the size and location of the tumour. The most common tests are: 

  • blood and urine test
  • ultrasound scans
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • bone marrow aspiration, generally  from a bone in the back
  • tumour biopsy to confirm diagnosis


Typical treatment


Treatment is administered taking into account the state of the disease, the child’s age and the location of the tumour. 

Some low-risk neuroblastoma may disappear without treatment, and others can be cured with surgical treatment alone. However, many tumours in the “high-risk” category will already have spread tumour cells to other parts of the body, and in these cases it is necessary to use a combination of chemotherapy, surgery, radiotherapy, bone marrow transplant and immunotherapy.




There are currently no measures to prevent this kind of tumour. 

Hospital o serveis complementaris relacionats

Children's Hospital and Woman's Hospital

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Cross-departmental services

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Research gropus
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