Neuroblastoma is a form of cancer, most commonly found in children below the age of five. Read this article to find out more on its signs and symptoms.
Neuroblastoma can be described as a cancerous tumor that grows in certain parts of the nervous system. In general, the growth of the cancer starts in the nerve tissue of adrenal glands or neck, chest or abdomen area. Later, it spreads to other parts of the body. The exact cause of neuroblastoma is still unknown, but in some cases, it has been found to be inherited. This cancer mainly affects infants and small children. Sometimes, the growth of the cancer may begin when the baby is still in the mother’s womb, but it gets detected after birth when the symptoms show up. Only in rare cases it has been found during fetal ultrasound. Neuroblastoma symptoms in adults are not very common.
The symptoms of neuroblastoma experienced by every child is quite different. It depends largely upon the size, location and severity of the cancer. The common symptoms are as follows:
The initial signs of the cancer in the abdomen are pain and a sense of fullness in the abdomen due to the presence of the tumor. It is followed by a change in the bowel habits or constipation, frequent urination, swelling in the legs and an abdominal mass that can be felt in the abdominal cavity.
When the cancer affects the chest then the specific symptoms that can be observed are wheezing, swelling in the face, changes in the eyes like protruding eyes, drooping eyelids, unequal size of the pupils, dark circles around the eyes, etc.
If the cancer spreads to the bone and bone marrow, then it gives symptoms like bone pain, anemia or low red blood cell count and bruises. When the cancer affects the skin, then lumps can be felt under the skin. Other general symptoms are fever, weakness in the limbs, watery diarrhea, muscle spasms, fatigue and sometimes paralysis.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The first step of diagnosis is thorough physical examination. Then laboratory tests like X-ray, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), are conducted to detect tumors. It is followed by blood tests, bone scan and ultrasound. If the reports of these tests suggest tumors, then biopsy is done to examine the tissues and ascertain the stage and severity of the cancer.
There are several forms of cancer treatment available for neuroblastoma. When the tumor is localized and has not spread to any other part of the body, then it is removed partially or completely by the means of surgery. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are the popular non surgical methods of treatment. In radiation therapy, strong x-rays are used to kill the cancerous cells and in chemotherapy strong doses of medicines are administered for destroying the cancer cells. These treatments often give temporary side effects like tiredness, nausea, fatigue, etc. Doctors prescribe medicines that help to control these side effects.
Unfortunately, till date, there is no way that one can prevent neuroblastoma. The possibility of recovery depends on a number of factors like age of the child, severity of the cancer, position of the tumor, rate of growth of the tumor, health condition of the child, and so on. So far it has been found that the best survival rate are in cases where the child is less than one year of age and the size of the tumor is small. Post-treatment follow-up care has to be continued in order to monitor the patient’s response to the treatment and to detect any further recurrence of symptoms.