Neuroblastoma is a rare and aggressive form of childhood cancer. In the Netherlands, about 25 to 30 children are diagnosed with this every year. Most children are under six years old.
Tumor in the sympathetic nervous system
A neuroblastoma is a malignant tumor that arises in the sympathetic (involuntary) nervous system. This nervous system controls everything in our body. When we are frightened or nervous, it causes our heart rate to go up and we breathe faster. For example, it makes us sweat, tremble, turn pale, open our eyes and have to go to the toilet. Neuroblastomas can arise anywhere in the nervous system (abdominal, thoracic cavity, neck, or pelvis), but they predominate in the adrenal glands.
The origin of neuroblastomas
Unfortunately, the exact cause of neuroblastomas is not known. At the moment it is assumed that something goes wrong in the organ development of the embryo. Cells divide at a certain point and then have to stop. In children with a neuroblastoma, the cells do divide, but then do not stop dividing, causing a neuroblastoma to develop from the normal nerve tissue. The neuroblastomas therefore belong to the embryonic tumors.
Chance of cure
The chance of a cure depends on many factors, including the size of the tumour, any metastases, but also the age of the child. Babies often have a better chance of survival than older children. When the neuroblastomas have not spread, the cure rates are between 70% and 90%. In some cases, the neuroblastoma even disappears without treatment. If there are metastases or if the tumor is aggressive, the chance of survival is much lower; about 30% to 40%.