Neuroblastoma may not cause any signs or symptoms in its early stages. Signs and symptoms often appear once the tumour grows into surrounding tissues. Other health conditions can cause the same symptoms as neuroblastoma.
One of the most common symptoms of neuroblastoma is pain. This pain is caused by the tumour pressing on nearby tissues as it grows or by the cancer spreading to bones. Other signs or symptoms will depend on the location of the tumour, if the tumour makes chemicals that go into the bloodstream and if the cancer has spread elsewhere in the body.
Neuroblastoma most commonly develops in infants and children younger than 5 years old. In infants, neuroblastoma develops most often in the chest and neck. In toddlers and older children, neuroblastoma develops most often in the abdomen.
When neuroblastoma starts in the abdomen, it can develop in nerve cells in the adrenal glands or in the sympathetic collateral ganglia (clusters of nerve cells in the abdomen). Neuroblastoma can also start in the chain ganglia that run along the spine in the chest, neck or pelvis.
Neuroblastoma in the chest can cause:
SVCS is often a life-threatening condition and needs to be treated right away. SVCS occurs when the tumour puts pressure on the superior vena cava (the large vein that carries blood from the head, neck, arms and chest to the heart). This group of symptoms includes coughing, difficulty breathing, headache, dizziness, fainting and swelling or flushing of the neck, face and upper arms. Find out more about superior vena cava syndrome.
Neuroblastoma in the neck can cause:
Neuroblastoma in the abdomen or pelvis can cause:
Neuroblastoma can sometimes affect the spinal cord and cause:
Spinal cord compression is a medical emergency that needs to be treated right away. It occurs when a tumour puts pressure on the spinal cord. The pressure may cause swelling and sometimes the blood supply to the spinal cord and nerves is affected. Spinal cord compression can lead to permanent paralysis if not treated early. Find out more about spinal cord compression.
Many neuroblastomas have already spread (or metastasized) to other parts of the body when they are diagnosed. Neuroblastoma can cause different signs and symptoms depending on where it has spread:
In some cases, neuroblastoma cells can make chemical substances called catecholamines that affect tissues and organs in other parts of the body. Neuroblastoma can cause several paraneoplastic syndromesparaneoplastic syndromesA group of symptoms that occurs when substances released by cancer cells disrupt the normal function of nearby or distant organs or tissues.. Symptoms of paraneoplastic syndromes include:
The Canadian Cancer Society’s peer support program is a telephone support service that matches cancer patients and their caregivers with specially trained volunteers.