Symptoms of Neuroblastoma

Neuroblastoma is a type of tumor that usually develops and is diagnosed in children before the age of 5 years.

This type of cancer affects the sympathetic nervous system, and the tumors develop from immature nerves. The masses often grow on the adrenal glands near the kidneys, but can also form in the neck, back, spinal cord, or pelvis.

This article overviews the common and rare symptoms of neuroblastoma.

Common Neuroblastoma Symptoms

Verywell / Katie Kerpel

Frequent Symptoms

In some cases, the only sign or symptom that appears in neuroblastoma is that you feel a lump or mass under your child’s skin. In other cases, particularly if the cancer is more advanced or the tumors are in certain parts of the body, there can be other symptoms.

Masses or Lumps

Feeling a strange lump of tissue under your child’s skin is one of the most common symptoms of neuroblastoma. However, a tumor can also be located farther from the skin’s surface where you’re less likely to notice it.

Pain

Depending on where the tumor is located, your child may experience pain or pressure in their abdomen, chest, pelvis, back, or neck—especially if the tumor is pressing on nerves.

Breathing Problems

Feeling short of breath or wheezing is common when the tumor is located near the lungs. The shortness of breath can also stem from the general feeling of tiredness that is common in cancer.

Weight Loss

Weight loss is common in cancer because of the decreased appetite and increased energy used by the body that can occur with the disease.

There are many reasons that a child might not be eating well, might lose weight without trying, or might not gain weight as expected as they grow.

It’s important to talk about these symptoms with your doctor, both to rule out cancer as a possible cause and determine what is affecting your child’s appetite and growth.

Other Common Symptoms

There are also other symptoms that are common with many forms of cancer, including neuroblastoma:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Easily bruising or bleeding
  • Constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and poor appetite

Rare Symptoms

Depending on the location and size of the tumor, neuroblastoma can also have rare but more serious symptoms. In some cases, these symptoms are signs of where the cancer is located and which parts of the body it is affecting.

Bone and Joint Pain

In about half of neuroblastoma cases, cancer will have spread to another area of the body by the time it is diagnosed. The cancer cells can get into the bloodstream and affect the health of other parts.

One of the common areas for neuroblastomas to spread is the bones and bone marrow. When the bones or bone marrow are involved, a child may have bone pain and limp when they walk.

Paralysis

If the tumor is on the spinal cord, it can compress nerves and make it hard for the nerves to send signals throughout the body. This can lead to weakness, trouble moving, and paralysis of one or more body parts.

Hypertension

High blood pressure (hypertension) with neuroblastoma is rare and usually develops when the tumor compresses the artery that flows into the kidneys.

Chronic Diarrhea

Neuroblastoma tumors sometimes lead to the excess production of the hormone vasoactive intestinal peptide. Having too much of this hormone causes chronic diarrhea.

Horner Syndrome

Horner syndrome is a rare condition that occurs when the sympathetic nerves are disrupted. Symptoms develop on one side of the face and include:

  • Drooping eyelid
  • Smaller pupil
  • Decreased sweating on one side of the face

Myoclonus and Opsoclonus

Myoclonus and opsoclonus cause seizure-like activity, the loss of muscle control, and involuntary movements. While rare, these symptoms can lead to long-term damage to the nervous system.

Complications

If you notice any signs and symptoms of neuroblastoma, talk to your child’s doctor. Sometimes, a tumor from neuroblastoma will go away on its own without the need for a long course of treatment.

However, neuroblastoma may also metastasize, meaning that a second tumor develops in another part of the body. Metastatic cancer can be more challenging to treat, but early diagnosis helps to prevent the progression of neuroblastoma and may reduce how much treatment your child needs.

When to See a Doctor

Many symptoms that are common in neuroblastoma also occur in other conditions that are not cancer and are not serious. Signs or symptoms that might be related to neuroblastoma include:

  • A lump or mass that you can feel under your child’s skin
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Seizure-like activity
  • Drooping eyelid, varying pupil size, or lack of sweating on one side of the face
  • Weakness or trouble moving

Call your healthcare provider if your child is experiencing any of these symptoms.

Summary

Neuroblastoma is a type of cancer that mostly occurs in young children. It does not always have symptoms other than a lump under the child’s skin that is noticed by a caregiver. When it does produce other symptoms, it usually means that the tumors from neuroblastoma are in other parts of the body.

Signs and symptoms of neuroblastoma, such as weight loss, fevers, and diarrhea, can also occur in many other conditions that are not cancer. It’s important that caregivers bring up any symptoms to their child’s doctor, who can assess the child and make recommendations for treatment

A Word From Verywell

If you are worried about any symptoms that your child is having or you are concerned that they might be at risk for neuroblastoma, it’s important to talk to their doctor.

By talking with you about how your child is doing, asking you questions about your family’s medical history, and doing medical tests, your child’s doctor can figure out if neuroblastoma is causing their symptoms and talk to you about options for treatment.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Cancer Society. What is neuroblastoma? Updated April 28, 2021.

  2. American Cancer Society. Signs and symptoms of neuroblastoma. Updated April 28, 2021.

  3. National Organization for Rare Diseases. Horner’s syndrome.