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Neuroblastomas: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About neuroblastomas

Neuroblastoma is a malignant tumour which results from the abnormal growth of immature cells (neuroblasts) of the sympathetic nervous tissue. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for involuntary actions of the body like bladder control, heart rate and blood pressure. Though the tumour involves cells of the nerve tissue, it lies outside the brain. Neuroblastoma is a solid tumour that has the potential to spread rapidly to other parts of the body.

Neuroblastomas (Glioma): Incidence, age and sex

Neuroblastomas are tumours of childhood and are most often seen in children of less than 5 years of age. However they may also be seen in teenagers. The incidence of neuroblastoma is slightly more in boys as compared with girls.

Signs and symptoms of neuroblastomas: Diagnosis

The clinical features of neuroblastoma differ from person to person and depend upon the location of the tumour. Generalised features include fever, headache, malaise and loss of weight. Other signs and symptoms include increased sweating, rapid heart rate, poor bladder control, flushed skin, imbalance in gait or uncontrolled eye movements. Spread of tumour mass to the chest may be manifested by cough and difficulty in breathing. Similarly bone pain, fatigue, pallor, bruising and bleeding may be exhibited when the tumour has spread to the bones and bone marrow.

The diagnosis of neuroblastoma is a difficult one since the symptoms and signs vary according to the location of tumour. In most of the cases, the tumour is detected when it has spread to other body parts. Investigations like bone scan, imaging tests of chest and abdomen may be done to assess the spread of tumour. If the tumour is in an accessible position, then biopsy may be done to establish the diagnosis.

Causes and prevention of neuroblastomas

The exact cause of development of neuroblastoma is not known. No risk factors or triggers have been documented to predispose to this tumour. The tumour develops in the immature cells (neuroblasts) of sympathetic nervous system and is highly malignant. The most common sites of occurrence are the chest and abdomen. It can spread to various parts of the body including adrenal glands, bone marrow, bones and lymph nodes.

Neuroblastomas: Complications

Neuroblastomas are highly malignant tumours which have high tendency to spread to other body organs. Thus affliction of vital organs like kidneys and liver may result in fatal complications like kidney or liver failure respectively. The chances of mortality increase with the progression of tumour to various parts of the body.

Neuroblastomas: Treatment

It is recommended to consult a neurologist and oncologist to discuss the effective management of neuroblastoma. The treatment modality constitutes chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery or combination. Neuroblastoma can be surgically removed if it is in an accessible position and this approach is combined with radiotherapy which helps in shrinking the tumour. However, the treatment depends upon several factors like location, severity and spread of tumour. The prognosis of tumour is variable; the outlook of neuroblastoma is better in younger children and whom the tumour has not yet spread. Overall, it is a highly treatable tumour and carries good outlook in most of the individuals.