Neuroblastoma is a type of solid tumour, occurring in the nervous system.
What Is a Tumour?
Cells make up all the tissues and organs in the human body. Within cells are genetic material (DNA), which tell the cells what to do. DNA sends messages to the cells, telling them when to divide and when to die. Cancer occurs when DNA gives incorrect instructions to a cell. In a cancerous cell, the DNA is damaged. These cells grow uncontrollably, divide when they shouldn’t and live longer than they should. A lump of these cells is called a tumour. A tumour can be either a) malignant (growing quickly and often spreading) or b) benign (slow to grow and not spreading).
How Neuroblastoma Occurs
This type of tumour grows in the developing cells of the sympathetic nervous system. This is the nerve system that transports messages throughout the body. All involuntary actions are performed by the sympathetic nervous system. This includes heart rate, dilating of the pupils, etc.
When a young cell of the sympathetic nervous system mutates, neuroblastoma occurs. A young cell is called neuroblast. When this mutation occurs, the neuroblasts grow uncontrollably and create cancerous tumours.
How Is Neuroblastoma Treated?
Each child and cancer is treated differently. Oncologists and specialists work with the parents to create a specific treatment plan for each child. Factors include the child’s age, the stage of cancer, the child’s overall health and the risk group of the neuroblastoma. Risk group is indicated as high-risk, immediate or low risk, based on the likelihood of the cancer returning or reoccurring after treatment.
Treatment options MAY* include one or more of the following:
- Surgery – performed to remove the tumour.
- Chemotherapy – medicines that destroy cancer cells or stop them from growing. There are several types of chemotherapy, which stop the growth of cells or destroy these cells in different ways.
- Radiation therapy – delivered either externally or internally, this form of therapy involves adminstering high energy beams to the patient to damage DNA and destroy rapidly growing cells. It is delivered to a specific part of the body, as opposed to the whole body, which is the case in chemotherapy.
- Other treatments may include a stem cell transplant, retinoid and immunotherapy.
- Approximately seven out of everyone 100 children diagnosed with cancer have neuroblastoma.
- Usually occurring in infants and young children, neuroblastoma is uncommon in older children and teens.
- Neuroblastoma is most commonly found in the adrenal gland, located on top of the kidney.
- Other common tumour sites include the neck, chest, abdomen and pelvis, near the spine.
- Neuroblastoma can be found anywhere in the body and can spread to places such as bone marrow, bones and lymph nodes.
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