What is Neuroblastoma?

Harry has stage 4 ‘high risk’ Neuroblastoma.

Neuroblastoma is a rare and aggressive cancer that mostly affects children, generally under the age of 5 years old. Most doctors will never see a case of Neuroblastoma in the course of their career as less than 100 children are diagnosed with the disease each year in the UK.

It develops from nerve cells called neuroblasts and most commonly starts in the tissue of the adrenal glands, which are situated above both kidneys. Neuroblastoma can spread to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, chest area, skin, liver, bone marrow and bones. Symptoms will depend on where the Neuroblastoma has spread to and can vary enormously. They can include pain or discomfort in the tummy, anaemia, bruising and bleeding, frequent infections, pain in the joints and bones or weakness and difficulty walking.

As these symptoms can differ in every child and mimic a variety of childhood illnesses, Neuroblastoma can be very difficult to diagnose in the early stages. As a result, like Harry, most children are not diagnosed until the cancer is at a stage 4 ‘high risk’ level. By this time the cancer has metastasised and is quite widespread throughout the body.

A child with stage 4 ‘high risk’ Neuroblastoma will receive the most aggressive treatment available. This will involve a combination of chemotherapy, surgery, high-dose chemotherapy with stem cell support, radiotherapy and immunotherapy. Even after this treatment is completed, the chance of relapse is extremely high. There is currently no protocol available in the UK to deal with relapsed Neuroblastoma. Many children must travel overseas to seek various medical trials not available under the NHS.

For more information about Neuroblastoma please see the following links:

Macmillan

NHS

Cancer Research UK