Recent decades yielded huge strides in treating childhood cancer, but certain types of tumors remain problematic.
“One area that has still a little room for improvement is a disease called neuroblastoma. Neuroblastoma is a nerve tumor that happens outside your central nervous system. So it’s outside your brain, outside your spinal cord,” says Dr. Emad Salman, pediatric oncologist with Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.
Of significance with this cancer- it is often found in babies. The majority of cases are in children younger than five, with infants having the highest cure rate.
“Where the child is born with it, the majority of them do well. In fact some of them get better on their own and even become cancer-less,” says Dr. Salman.
About 90% of babies diagnosed with neuroblastoma were alive five years later. That dips to 68% for children diagnosed between the ages of one and four. Meaning neuroblastoma behaves quite differently in infants.
“The neuroblastomas that happen very early in life, usually one-and-a-half years of age, they have spread and need to have very aggressive treatment to get good outcomes,” says Dr. Salman.
Neuroblastoma is classified based on age, stage, and tumor features. Surgery alone may be enough for low risk cases; more advanced include chemotherapy. Some cases disappear on their own without any treatment.
“Somebody does an x-ray sometime in the future and then you see what we call calcification which means it’s a tumor that has now shriveled,” says Dr. Salman.
A challenge for doctors is to timely diagnose the neuroblastomas that will benefit from treatment.