Neuroblastoma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in nerve tissue of the adrenal gland, neck, chest, or spinal cord.
Neuroblastoma often begins in the nerve tissue of the adrenal glands. There are two adrenal glands, one on top of each kidney in the back of the upper abdomen. The adrenal glands make important hormones that help control heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, and the way the body reacts to stress. Neuroblastoma may also begin in the abdomen, in the chest, in nerve tissue near the spine in the neck, or in the spinal cord.
Anatomy of the female urinary system showing the kidneys, adrenal glands, ureters, bladder, and urethra. Urine is made in the renal tubules and collects in the renal pelvis of each kidney. The urine flows from the kidneys through the ureters to the bladder. The urine is stored in the bladder until it leaves the body through the urethra.
Neuroblastoma most often begins during early childhood, usually in children younger than 5 years. It sometimes forms before birth but is usually found later, when the tumor begins to grow and cause symptoms. In rare cases, neuroblastoma may be found before birth by fetal ultrasound.
By the time neuroblastoma is diagnosed, the cancer has usually metastasized (spread), most often to the lymph nodes, bones, bone marrow, liver, and skin.
See the PDQ summary on Neuroblastoma Screening for more information.
Neuroblastoma is sometimes caused by a gene mutation passed from the parent to the child.
Neuroblastoma is sometimes inherited (passed from the parent to the child). It usually occurs at a younger age than neuroblastoma that is not inherited. There also may be more than one tumor in the adrenal medulla in inherited neuroblastoma.
Possible signs of neuroblastoma include bone pain and a lump in the abdomen, neck, or chest.
The most common symptoms of neuroblastoma are caused by the tumor pressing on nearby tissues as it grows or by cancer spreading to the bone. These and other symptoms may be caused by neuroblastoma. Other conditions may cause the same symptoms. Check with your child's doctor if you see any of the following problems in your child:
- Lump in the abdomen, neck, or chest.
- Bulging eyes.
- Dark circles around the eyes ("black eyes").
- Bone pain.
- Swollen stomach and trouble breathing (in infants).
- Painless, bluish lumps under the skin in infants.
- Weakness or paralysis (loss of ability to move a body part).
Less common signs of neuroblastoma include the following:
- Shortness of breath.
- Feeling tired.
- Easy bruising or bleeding.
- Petechiae (flat, pinpoint spots under the skin caused by bleeding).
- High blood pressure.
- Severe watery diarrhea.
- Jerky muscle movements.
- Uncontrolled eye movement.
- Swelling of the legs, ankles, feet, or scrotum.