Neuroblastoma is a rare cancer that develops in the sympathetic nervous system, a network of nerves that carries messages from the brain throughout the body. About 700 children are diagnosed every year in the United States. Neuroblastoma is the cancer most often found in infants.
The disease forms as solid tumors — lumps or masses — in the adrenal glands, abdomen, neck, chest, or pelvis. The tumors can also spread to other parts of the body such as the bones and bone marrow.
Although research is intensive and ongoing, we still don’t know what causes neuroblastoma. Most doctors and scientists believe it’s an accidental growth that occurs during the development of the sympathetic nervous system.
A person with neuroblastoma may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- aches and pains
- weight loss or poor appetite
- swelling of the abdomen (referred to as a distended abdomen)
- limping or difficulty walking
Because many of these symptoms are similar to those of other, more common childhood diseases, many children aren’t diagnosed with neuroblastoma until after the cancer has already begun to metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body.