Neuroblastoma (Neuro= nerve, Blastoma =collection of cells)
Neuroblastoma is the most common solid tumour of childhood. It is almost exclusively a childhood cancer occurring most commonly between the ages of 0-5 years.
It is a solid tumour arising from particular nerve cells which run in a chain-like fashion up the child’s abdomen and chest and into the skull following the line of the spinal cord.
The most common site for the tumour to grow is in the abdomen. About 50% start in the adrenal gland above the kidney. Some tumours grow at the back of the chest and occasionally even higher up towards the neck.
Neuroblastoma is a rare disease with about 40 children diagnosed with neuroblastoma each year in Australia. There is a chance of 1 in 100,000 of a child suffering neuroblastoma. There appears to be no trend in an increasing number of cases in Australia.
There are no known reasons as to why this cancer occurs and there are no clear environmental links. There are rare cases where neuroblastoma runs in families due to a genetic mutation, but in most cases there is no known genetic cause.
Neuroblastoma may be difficult to diagnose as symptoms often do not become apparent until the tumour has reached a certain size. Even then symptoms may be subtle and similar to other more common non-serious childhood diseases. As a result it often takes some time before the final diagnosis of neuroblastoma is made.
Often parents wonder if they or a doctor should have noticed something sooner, but because it is such a rare disease it is unlikely that a family doctor will ever see a child with neuroblastoma in a lifetime of practice.
Neuroblastoma is a very complex cancer and there are many diffent types that behave very differently. At one end of the spectrum are benign tumours that may even resolve spontaneously, while at the other end are aggressive tumours with an average survival rate of 40%. The cure rate for these “high-risk” tumours has only improved marginally in recent years but there is clear hope that this rate will change with some new drug discoveries coming through.
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