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Symptoms of Neuroblastoma

Symptoms of neuroblastoma depend on where the tumor or tumors are. In any part of the body, tumors may cause a lump that you can see or feel.

Here are some other signs or symptoms that might occur in a child who has neuroblastoma. The same things can also be caused by other problems that are not cancer. So it's important for a child with these signs of symptoms to see a doctor to find out the cause.

  • Pain or weakness in some part of the body. This can happen from tumors that press on nerves.
  • Enlarged belly or trouble having a bowel movement. This can happen if tumors are growing inside the belly. They may press against the muscles and skin that cover the belly, or they may press on internal organs, like the intestines.
  • Anemia (not enough red blood cells to carry oxygen around the body). Anemia can occur if there are tumors in the bone marrow (where blood cells are made). Common symptoms of anemia include feeling tired or irritable and being short of breath. Your child may also get dizzy or lightheaded, or be paler than usual.
  • Bulging eyes or dark circles around the eyes. Tumors around the eyes can cause these symptoms.

Your child's doctor will do an exam to look for signs of cancer and will ask about your child's health background. Then the doctor may suggest a number of tests to help tell the type of cancer and see whether it has spread.

A urine test or blood test may reveal high levels of certain chemicals that are made or increased by neuroblastoma.

The doctor may do an exam of the nervous system to check for signs of a problem. This exam involves questions about the child's thinking and movement, and simple tests to see whether muscles, reflexes and coordination seem healthy.

If the doctor thinks that your child may have neuroblastoma, he will do a biopsy next to remove a small sample of tissue to check under a microscope. This may mean doing surgery to take out some tissue.

Another method is to take a sample of fluid or tissue using a needle. This method is called needle biopsy or fine needle aspiration. Doctors don't usually use this method for neuroblastoma because it's hard to get a large enough sample for the testing they need to do.

Your child's doctor will also want your child to have pictures taken of the inside of her body, such as an X-ray, ultrasound, CT (computed tomography) scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), MIBG scan, positron emission tomography (PET) scan or bone scan.

These are called imaging studies, and they allow the doctor to look for tumors or places where cancer is active.

Who Treats This at Seattle Children's?

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Spring 2014: Good Growing Newsletter

In This Issue

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Download Spring 2014 (PDF)