This week we are taking a look at neuroblastoma, a childhood cancer, and finding out how stem cells could help.

Neuroblastoma is a cancer which develops from nerve cells called neuroblasts and is most prevalent in very young children with 90% of all cases being diagnosed in children under the age of 5, neuroblastoma in children over the age of ten is very rare.  Fortunately childhood cancer is incredibly rare however, of the cancers usually diagnosed in infants neuroblastoma is the most common [1].

Diagnosing neuroblastoma early in its development can be difficult as initial symptoms are common ones such as aches, pains, tiredness, loss of energy and constipation [2]; common issues in infancy. Other signs can include :

•a lump in the neck

•bone pain and difficulty walking, if the bones are affected

•numbness, weakness or loss of movement in the child’s lower body, if the cancer has affected the spinal cord

•pale skin, bruising, bleeding and frequent infections, if the cancer has affected the bone marrow

•bluish lumps in the skin and the appearance of “black eyes” [2]

There are several stages used to classify the diagnosis of neuroblastoma and some may be described as high-risk.  High-risk neuroblastoma is particularly difficult to treat and in cases where other treatments are unlikely to be successful an autologous stem cell transplant may be used [3].  Autologous stem cell transplants use the patient’s own stem cells and could be sourced from the bone marrow, peripheral blood or cord blood.

The prognosis of neuroblastoma varies according to the stage at which it is diagnosed.  For low risk neuroblastoma the 5 year survival rate is higher than 95% while for high risk neuroblastoma the 5 year survival rate is 40-50% [4].

As with all cancers early diagnosis is important to improving the chance of successful treatment and survival.  If you are concerned at all about your child’s health please visit your GP in the first instance, however, it is unlikely that a diagnosis of neuroblastoma will be given.





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