Neuroblastoma - Childhood: Introduction

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 04/2018

ON THIS PAGE: You will find some basic information about this disease and the parts of the body it may affect. This is the first page of Cancer.Net’s Guide to Childhood Neuroblastoma. Use the menu to see other pages. Think of that menu as a roadmap to this complete guide.

Cancer begins when healthy cells change and grow out of control, forming a mass called a tumor. A tumor can be cancerous or benign. A cancerous tumor is malignant, meaning it can grow and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor means the tumor can grow but will not spread.

About neuroblastoma

Neuroblastoma is a solid cancerous tumor that begins in the nerve cells outside the brain of infants and young children. It can start in the nerve tissue near the spine in the neck, chest, abdomen, or pelvis, but it most often begins in the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are located on top of both kidneys. These glands make hormones that help control body functions, such as heart rate and blood pressure.

Neuroblasts are immature nerve cells found in unborn babies. Normal neuroblasts mature into nerve cells or adrenal medulla cells, which are cells found in the center of the adrenal gland. Neuroblastoma forms when neuroblasts don’t mature properly.

Sometimes, babies are born with small clusters of neuroblasts that eventually mature into nerve cells and do not become cancer. A neuroblast that does not mature can continue to grow, forming a mass called a tumor.

Neuroblastoma develops most often in infants and children younger than 5. It can form before the baby is born and can sometimes be found during a prenatal (before birth) ultrasound. Most often, neuroblastoma is found after the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, which are tiny, bean-shaped organs that help fight infection, liver, lungs, bones, and bone marrow, which is the spongy, red tissue in the inner part of large bones.

Looking for More of an Introduction?

If you would like more of an introduction, explore these related items. Please note that these links will take you to other sections on Cancer.Net:

  • ASCO Answers Fact Sheet: Read a 1-page fact sheet that offers an introduction to childhood neuroblastoma. This fact sheet is available as a PDF, so it is easy to print out.

  • Cancer.Net Patient Education Video: View a short video led by an ASCO expert in childhood cancer that provides basic information and areas of research.

The next section in this guide is Statistics. It helps explain the number of people who are diagnosed with neuroblastoma and general survival rates. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.