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Causes of Neuroblastoma

written by: DaniellaNicole • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 10/13/2010

Learn what causes neuroblastoma and the risk factors for it. Find out what is known about this condition that is found in infants and what hope is available to parents.

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    What causes neuroblastoma? While not much is known about this condition, enough information is available to offer parents of children with neuroblastoma hope.

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    Neuroblastoma is a type of cancer that most often affects children aged five or younger. It can be located in any of several locations in the body. Most often, it is found in or around the adrenal glands, but can also be found in the chest, abdomen, pelvis and neck. This is because it develops from nerve cells, and nerve cells are found in each of these locations.

    Statistics cited by the Pediatric Oncology Resource Center state that children with neuroblastomas are diagnosed, on average, by age two, with about 25 percent of cases being diagnosed by age one. Approximately one in six thousand children are expected to be diagnosed with neuroblastoma by the time they are age five.

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    Though it is not known what triggers the mutation that starts neuroblastoma, it is known that when neuroblasts form tumors neuroblastoma develops. According to the Mayo Clinic, neuroblasts are “immature nerve cells that a fetus makes as part of its development process. As the fetus matures, neuroblasts eventually turn into nerve cells and fibers and the cells that make up the adrenal glands. The majority of neuroblasts mature by birth, though studies have found a small number of immature neuroblasts in newborns."

    It is believed that the mutations occur during pregnancy or shortly after the baby has been born.

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    Risk Factors

    Not much is known about the risk factors of neuroblastomas. Though some patients have had a family history of cancer, these cases are relatively few in number. Researchers are investigating possible causes and risk factors for neuroblastomas.

    If an infant is showing symptoms of neuroblastoma, a visit to the physician is in order. These symptoms include bulging eyes, dark circles around the eyes, a swollen stomach and a lump located in the chest, neck or abdomen.

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    Though not much is known about what causes neuroblastoma or the risk factors for it, what is known is how to treat it. A variety of methods are used to treat neuroblastoma, including surgery, chemotherapy, stem cell transplantation and radiation.

    The treating physician may wish to wait before beginning treatment for several reasons, based upon how severe the symptoms are in the infant. It would not be unusual for a treating physician to want to ‘wait and see’ how the patient does before subjecting him or her to surgery, chemotherapy or other treatments.

    According to statistics cited by the Pediatrics Oncology Resource Center, there is a cure rate of up to ninety percent for children under age one who have neuroblastoma.

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    Neuroblastoma. Mayo Clinic Staff. August 14, 2010.

    Neuroblastoma. Medline Plus. U.S. National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health.

    Neuroblastoma. Ped-Onc Resource Center.