Neuroblastoma

Can medical cannabis help patients suffering from symptoms of Neuroblastoma? Find out more below. 

What is Neuroblastoma?

Neuroblastoma is a type of cancer that develops in immature nerve cells called neuroblasts. These cells are found in various body parts, including the adrenal glands, abdomen, chest, and neck.

The symptoms of neuroblastoma depend on the location and size of the tumor. They may include abdominal swelling or pain, difficulty breathing, a lump or mass in the neck or chest, bone pain, and unexplained weight loss.

The treatment of neuroblastoma depends on the stage of cancer and the patient’s age. Treatment options may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and stem cell transplant. The prognosis for neuroblastoma varies depending on several factors, including the stage of cancer, the patient’s age, and other clinical factors.

What causes it?

The exact cause of neuroblastoma is not yet known, but it is believed to be caused by genetic mutations that occur during the development of the embryo or fetus. These mutations lead to the abnormal growth of immature nerve cells (neuroblasts) and the formation of tumors. In some cases, neuroblastoma may be caused by inherited genetic mutations. In these cases, cancer may run in families and affect multiple generations.

Certain risk factors have also been identified that may increase the likelihood of developing neuroblastoma. These include a family history of the disease, certain genetic conditions (such as neurofibromatosis or Beckwith-Wiedemann syndrome), and exposure to certain chemicals or substances, such as pesticides or solvents. However, in many cases, the exact cause of neuroblastoma remains unknown.

How common is it?

Neuroblastoma is most commonly diagnosed in children under five, but it can also occur in older children and adults. It is rare, accounting for about 6% of all childhood cancers.

Are there types/stages?

Yes, there are different types and stages of neuroblastoma. The type and stage of cancer depend on factors such as the location of the tumor, how much of the tumor has spread, and whether or not there are certain genetic mutations present.

Types of Neuroblastoma:

  • Localized: The tumor is only in one area and has not spread.
  • Advanced: The tumor has spread to other body parts, such as the lymph nodes, bone marrow, liver, or lungs.
  • MYCN amplified: A subtype of advanced neuroblastoma in which the cancer cells have extra copies of the MYCN gene, which can make cancer more aggressive.

Stages of Neuroblastoma:

  • Stage 1: The tumor is localized and has not spread.
  • Stage 2: The tumor is localized but has started to spread to nearby lymph nodes.
  • Stage 3: The tumor has started spreading to lymph nodes on the other side of the body or nearby tissues.
  • Stage 4: The tumor has spread to other body parts, such as the bone marrow, liver, or lungs.
  • Stage 4S (special): A subtype of neuroblastoma that is only found in infants and has a good prognosis. The tumor has spread to specific body parts, but the child is otherwise healthy.

Knowing the type and stage of neuroblastoma is essential in determining the best course of treatment and predicting the outlook for the patient.

Signs & Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of neuroblastoma vary depending on the location and size of the tumor. Some children with neuroblastoma may not have any symptoms, while others may have a range of symptoms. Common signs and symptoms of neuroblastoma may include:

  • Abdominal swelling or pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • A lump or mass in the neck, chest, or abdomen
  • Bone pain, particularly in the legs or hips
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Fevers
  • High blood pressure
  • Diarrhea or constipation

Other conditions can also cause these symptoms, so it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider if you or your child are experiencing them.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Diagnosis of neuroblastoma typically involves several different tests and procedures, including:

  • Physical exam: The doctor will examine the child and look for signs of a tumor, such as a lump or mass.
  • Imaging tests: Imaging tests such as ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, or PET scan may be used to locate the tumor and determine if it has spread to other parts of the body.
  • Biopsy: A small sample of tissue from the tumor may be removed and examined under a microscope to confirm the diagnosis of neuroblastoma.
  • Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy: Samples of bone marrow are taken to check if cancer has spread to the bone marrow.
  • Genetic testing: Genetic tests may be done to determine if cancer has specific genetic mutations that may affect treatment and prognosis.

Treatment for neuroblastoma depends on the stage of cancer, the age of the patient, and other clinical factors. Treatment options may include:

  • Surgery: Surgery is often the first treatment for neuroblastoma and involves removing as much of the tumor as possible.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells throughout the body.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors.
  • Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy uses the body’s immune system to fight cancer.
  • Stem cell transplant: In some cases, high doses of chemotherapy and radiation therapy may be used to kill the cancer cells, and then a stem cell transplant is performed to replace the destroyed bone marrow.

The child’s healthcare team will determine the specific treatment plan, which may involve a combination of these treatments. Follow-up care and monitoring are essential to detect any cancer recurrence and manage any potential long-term effects of the treatment.

Can medical marijuana help?

The use of medical cannabis in treating neuroblastoma has not been extensively studied, and its effectiveness in treating this type of cancer is not well-established. While some studies have suggested that cannabis compounds may have anti-cancer effects in certain types of cancer, including neuroblastoma, more research is needed to determine its potential benefits and risks.

Additionally, the use of medical cannabis in children with cancer is a complex issue, as there are concerns about potential side effects and interactions with other treatments. Medical cannabis should only be used under the supervision of a healthcare provider experienced in its use in pediatric oncology and in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

Overall, while medical cannabis may potentially treat and benefit certain types of cancer, including neuroblastoma, more research is needed to fully understand its benefits and risks and how it can be safely and effectively integrated into a comprehensive treatment plan.

Last Updated: April 6, 2023

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