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Neuroblastoma is a cancerous tumor that begins in nerve tissue of infants and very young children. The abnormal cells often are found in the nerve tissue that is present in the unborn baby and later develops into a detectable tumor. Neuroblastoma is rare in children older than 10 years of age; however, it does occur occasionally in adults.
The tumor usually begins in the tissues of the adrenal gland found in the abdomen but also may begin in nerve tissue in the neck, chest and/or pelvis. The adrenal glands are positioned on top of the kidneys. These glands secrete hormones and other important substances that are required for normal functions in the body.
In the U.S., approximately 650 children are diagnosed with neuroblastoma each year. It is often present at birth but not detected until the tumor begins to grow and compress the surrounding organs. Most children affected by neuroblastoma have been diagnosed before age 5. In rare cases, neuroblastoma can be detected before birth by a fetal ultrasound. It is the most common solid tumor cancer in infants.
Neuroblastoma cancer cells can spread (metastasize) quickly to other areas of the body (i.e., lymph nodes, liver, lungs, bones, central nervous system and bone marrow). Approximately 70 percent of all children diagnosed with neuroblastoma will have some metastatic disease.
The only risk factor that has been established for neuroblastoma is heredity, although the vast majority of neuroblastomas are not inherited. Recent research indicates that certain genetic variations double the risk for this disease. Also, having this particular variation increases the chance that a child will develop a more aggressive form of the disease.
The average age at diagnosis in genetically linked cases is younger than those cases that are not inherited. Cancer that presents in several different areas of the body at once is a sign that it may be a genetically inherited cancer.
We have three full-time pediatric hematologist/oncologists affiliated with Lehigh Valley Reilly Children's Hospital. They treat cancer and bleeding disorders in children and diagnose and provide all of your child’s treatments right here in the Lehigh Valley. Our pediatric oncology practice is part of the Children's Oncology Group, a National Cancer Institute coalition of more than 230 children's hospitals. This gives you access to the latest therapies and national clinical trials.