Neuroblastoma is a cancer that develops in the sympathetic nervous system, which is the network of nerves that carries messages from the brain throughout the body. The cancer develops 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 blood-forming 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.
Each year in the United States, about 700 people — usually young children — are diagnosed with neuroblastoma. It’s also the most commonly diagnosed cancer in infants.
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.