Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

What is neuroblastoma?

Neuroblastoma is a cancerous tumor that begins in the nerve tissue of infants and very young children. The abnormal cells are often found in the nerve tissue that is present in the unborn baby and later develops into a detectable tumor. Neuroblastoma is rare in children older than 10 years of age; however, it does occur occasionally in adults.

The tumor usually begins in the tissues of the adrenal gland found in the abdomen, but also may begin in nerve tissue in the neck, chest and/or pelvis. The adrenal glands are positioned on top of the kidneys. These glands secrete hormones and other important substances that are required for normal functions in the body such as the nervous system.

In the U.S., approximately 650 children are diagnosed with neuroblastoma each year. It is often present at birth, but not detected until the tumor begins to grow and compress the surrounding organs. Most children affected by neuroblastoma have been diagnosed before the age of 5. In rare cases, neuroblastoma can be detected before birth by a fetal ultrasound. It is the most common tumor found in children younger than 1 year of age. For unknown reasons, it occurs slightly more often in males than in females.

Neuroblastoma cancer cells can spread (metastasize) quickly to other areas of the body (i.e., lymph nodes, liver, lungs, bones, central nervous system and bone marrow). Approximately 70 percent of all children diagnosed with neuroblastoma will have some metastatic disease.