Risk factors

A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing a certain condition or disease, such as cancer. In adults, lifestyle and environmental factors (such as smoking or exposure to certain chemicals) can be significant risk factors for developing certain types of cancer. In children, very few risk factors have been identified that increase the chance of developing cancer. For most children with cancer, the underlying cause is unknown.

Even if your child has a risk factor, it does not mean they will develop cancer. Many children with a risk factor will never develop cancer, while others with cancer may have had no known risk factors. Even if a child with a risk factor develops cancer, it is usually hard to know how much that risk factor contributed to the development of their disease.

The causes of neuroblastoma are not well understood, but factors associated with a higher chance of developing neuroblastoma include the following:

Family history

In rare cases (around 1% to 2% of children with neuroblastoma ), neuroblastoma runs in families. When this happens, the cancer usually develops at a younger age than in children with no family history of the disease, and often in multiple parts of the body.

Knowledge of your family's history relating to cancer may change over time.

Genetic conditions

A small number of children have genetic or inherited risk factors that increase their chance of developing cancer during childhood. These genetic conditions can run in families, or can start in the child from a change in their DNA. Neuroblastoma that runs in families tends to be associated with faulty ALK  or PHOX2B genes.

Certain genetic disorders can increase a child's risk of developing neuroblastoma. These include:

  • Hirschsprung disease 
  • congenital central hypoventilation syndrome 
  • neurofibromatosis type 1.


Image credit: Weimiao Yu, Hwee Kuan Lee, Srivats Hariharan, Wen Yu Bu, Sohail Ahmed (2012) CIL:40217, Mus musculus, Neuroblastoma. CIL. Dataset. https://doi.org/doi:10.7295/W9CIL40217

If your child is diagnosed with one of these genetic conditions, they will need specific follow-up. The health care team will advise which ongoing tests your child will need.

Cancers in children that are linked to genetic conditions may also affect the risk for other family members. Speak to your child's treatment team to see whether genetic counselling is recommended for you or your family.

For more information about genetic conditions, see the children's cancer glossary or the Centre for Genetics Education.

This information is reproduced with permission of Cancer Australia and you can download the full Cancer Australia’s Neuroblastoma Fact Sheet here.

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