What Is Neuroblastoma?

by St. Baldrick's Foundation
September 1, 2017
what is neuroblastoma

What is neuroblastoma?

Neuroblastoma is a type of childhood cancer that develops in nerve tissue outside of the central nervous system. It usually begins in the adrenal gland on top of the kidney, but it can be found anywhere along the spine.

Despite the name, neuroblastoma is not a brain tumor. It is the most common extracranial solid tumor that affects children.

There are around 1,000 new cases per year in the United States. Despite advances in therapy, about half of the children with aggressive neuroblastoma will die from their disease.

Hope has arrived — the FDA approved a new drug for neuroblastoma >

What are the signs and symptoms of neuroblastoma?

The signs and symptoms of neuroblastoma depend on where the tumor is located. Because they are similar to symptoms of other much more common childhood illnesses, it can take many months for a diagnosis of neuroblastoma to be made.

Symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain and tenderness
  • Constipation
  • Weakness
  • Irritability
  • Fevers
  • Anemia or bruising from low blood counts

Meet 5-year-old Micah, who’s fought neuroblastoma three times >

How is research helping to fight this type of cancer?

In recent decades, childhood cancer researchers have gotten better at delivering high-dose chemotherapy and radiation. Unfortunately, neuroblastoma remains a deadly disease.

According to Dr. Samuel Volchenboum, a St. Baldrick’s Scholar, research needs to focus on finding:

  • better ways to identify high-risk patients at diagnosis,
  • faster and more sensitive ways to evaluate which methods work and don’t work, and
  • more targeted and specific therapies.

Dr. Volchenboum is tackling these issues by using a technique called proteomics to study neuroblastoma cells.

In proteomics, researchers use a machine called a mass spectrometer to identify the proteins in tumor cells, blood, or other tissue samples. By studying the proteins unique to different types of neuroblastoma cells, we can learn more about this type of childhood cancer and find better ways to treat kids with neuroblastoma.

How is my support making a difference?

Using proteomics to study neuroblastoma takes a lot of work, time, and is quite expensive, Dr. Volchenboum said.

“Funds from St. Baldrick’s have been critical to propelling this project forward. We have had some early successes in identifying proteins unique to neuroblastoma cells, and we are taking the exciting next steps of verifying these in samples from patients,” he continued. “The generous support of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation has allowed me to conduct these early experiments and collect the data that will be critical for applying for government-sponsored research funding.”

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