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What is Neuroblastoma?

Published September 06. 2013 05:00PM

Neuroblastoma is a rare type of cancer that presents itself as a solid tumor formed by special nerve cells called neuroblasts. Approximately 700 new cases are diagnosed in the United States each year, mostly in infants and children. In neuroblastoma, immature cells grow abnormally instead of maturing into nerve cells. Although tumors sometimes form before a child is born, most aren't found until they begin to grow and affect the body, usually by the time a child has reached the age of five. Specialists are unsure of the cause but suspect it is related to a defect in a specific neuroblast, allowing the cell to divide uncontrollably.

As with other cancers, early detection can make a difference in a patient's prognosis. Removing the tumor before it has a chance to spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body reduces the risk factor.

Usually, symptoms are vague and may include fever, loss of appetite and fatigue. Because these warning signs develop slowly and mimic those of many other childhood ailments, neuroblastoma is difficult to diagnose.

Unfortunately, because most tumors aren't discovered until they have spread, more than half the diagnosed cases are considered high risk. And, even for those who are deemed cancer free, there are possible late effects, sometimes a secondary cancer caused by chemotherapy and/or radiation.

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