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Neuroblastoma is cancer that develops from immature nerve cells that are found in many areas of the body.
Neuroblastoma most commonly occurs in and around the adrenal glands, which are similar in origin to nerve cells and located on top of the kidneys. However, neuroblastoma can develop in other areas of the abdomen, such as the chest, neck, and near the spine where groups of nerve cells exist.
The signs and symptoms of neuroblastoma vary depending on the part of the body affected.
Abdominal neuroblastoma – the most common type – can cause signs and symptoms such as:
- stomach pain
- A lump under the skin that isn’t tender to the touch
- Changes in bowel habits such as diarrhea or constipation
Usually cancer starts with a genetic mutation that allows normal, healthy cells to continue growing without responding to stop signals from what normal cells are doing. Cancer cells grow and multiply in an uncontrolled manner. The abnormal cells that accumulate form a lump (tumor).
Neuroblastoma begins with neuroblasts – immature nerve cells that a fetus forms as part of its developmental process.
As the fetus matures, neuroblasts eventually transform into nerve cells and the fibers and cells that make up the adrenal glands.
Children with a family history of neuroblastoma may be more likely to develop the disease. However, it is believed that familial neuroblastoma includes a very small number of cases of neuroblastoma. In most cases of neuroblastoma, a cause is never identified.
Complications of neuroblastoma can include:
- The spread of cancer (metastasis). Neuroblastoma can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body such as the lymph nodes, bone marrow, liver, skin, and bones.
- Compression of the spinal cord. Tumors can grow and press on the spinal cord, causing compression of the spinal cord. Compression of the spinal cord can cause pain and paralysis.
- Signs and symptoms of tumor secretions. Neuroblastoma cells can secrete certain chemicals that irritate other normal tissues and cause signs and symptoms called paraneoplastic syndromes. Paraneoplastic syndrome, which rarely occurs in people with neuroblastoma, leads to rapid eye movements and coordination problems. Another rare syndrome causes abdominal swelling and diarrhea.