Neuroblastomas are tumors that occur most commonly in children, around the age of 5 or even younger, in the immature nerve tissues. According to experts like an Oncologist in Islamabad neuroblastomas are frequently found in the adrenal glands; from this primary site, they may spread to other parts of the body. Read on to know more about neuroblastomas, and how to treat them:
What are neuroblastomas?
Neuroblastomas are tumors of the sympathetic nervous system, or the network of nerves that carry the ‘fight or flight’ messages from the brain to the body. The sympathetic nervous system includes nerve fibers that run along with spinal cord, as well as, the ganglia or cluster of nerve tissue along the pathway of the nerve, and the medullary cells in the adrenal gland. This gland is responsible for producing hormones like the adrenaline and noradrenaline, and is found on top of each kidney. The most common site for neuroblastoma is the adrenal gland
What are the symptoms of neuroblastomas?
Since there are many different types of neuroblastomas, the symptoms thus vary depending on the location.
The most common form of neuroblastoma is in the stomach and it presents with:
- Pain in the abdomen
- Change in the bowel habits with varying constipation or diarrhea
- Non-tender mass in the abdomen
For other locations, the non-specific symptoms include:
- Bone pain
- Lumps under the skin
- Back pain
- Unexplained fever
- Unexplained weight loss
- Dark circles that look like bruises around the eyes
- Protruding eyes (proptosis)
- Wheezing—usually in babies
- Weakness in movement
- Drooping eyelids with unequal pupil size (Horner syndrome)
In the later stage of disease, there is:
- Very high blood pressure
- Uncontrolled eye movements
- Uncoordinated movement
- Shortness of breath
How are neuroblastomas diagnosed?
The diagnosis of neuroblastoma in most children is made before the age of 5 years. In fact, in some cases this cancer can be detected in the prenatal stage through ultrasound scan. If neuroblastoma is suspected, the healthcare provider may order the following investigations:
- Blood test
- Urine test
- Chest x-ray
- Ultrasound scan
- MIBG scan
What are the complications of neuroblastomas?
Neuroblastomas can cause the following complications:
- Spread to the spinal cord: if the tumor spreads and involves the spinal column, it can compress the spinal cord thereby causing pain and paralysis in the nerves involved.
- Spread of the tumor: as with any cancer, there is risk of spread to other parts of the body—metastasis. Metastasis causes enlarged lymph nodes, bruising and bone pain.
- Paraneoplastic syndromes: if neuroblastomas release secretory chemicals, they may produce symptoms like diarrhea and abdominal swelling, which is part of the paraneoplastic syndrome. Other symptoms of this syndrome include: uncoordinated movement disorders and rapid eye movement.
What are the treatment options?
The treatment of this cancer is dependent on factors like the age of the patient, the stage of the tumor and the spread of disease. Depending on the type of the tumor, the treatment regimen is designed to predict the response of the tumor.
The possible treatment options for neuroblastomas include:
- Surgery: for patients with large tumors, surgery is performed with chemotherapy—either before to shrink the tumor, or after to destroy the remaining cells.
- Stem cell transplant: before the initiation of therapy, stem cells are removed from the body and they are injected back after chemotherapy to replace the bone marrow destroyed during the treatment.
- Chemo/radio therapy: chemotherapy stops the proliferation of cancerous cells thereby stopping the tumor from growing. These drugs are given for several weeks or months. Radiation therapy, like chemotherapy, stops the reproduction of tumor cells through high level of external radiation. This modality is used mostly in high-risk neuroblastomas.
- Immunotherapy: this form of treatment is used by Best Oncologist in Lahore to train the body’s own immune cells to attack the tumor. Through immunotherapy, medication called GD2 target proteins are injected in the patient’s body that attract the fighter antibodies to destroy the tumor cells.