Cancer begins when healthy cells change and grow uncontrollably, forming a mass called a tumor. A tumor can be cancerous or benign. A cancerous tumor is malignant, meaning it can grow and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor means the tumor can grow but will not spread.
Neuroblastoma is a solid cancerous tumor that begins in the nerve cells outside the brain of infants and young children. It can start in the nerve tissue near the spine in the neck, chest, abdomen, or pelvis, but it most often begins in the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands are located on top of both kidneys and make hormones that help control body functions, such as heart rate and blood pressure.
Neuroblasts are immature nerve cells found in unborn babies. Normal neuroblasts mature into nerve cells or adrenal medulla cells, which are cells found in the center of the adrenal gland. Neuroblastoma forms when neuroblasts don’t mature properly.
Sometimes, babies are born with small clusters of neuroblasts that eventually mature into nerve cells and do not become cancer. A neuroblast that does not mature can continue to grow, forming a mass called a tumor.
Neuroblastoma develops most often in infants and children younger than five. It can form before the baby is born and can sometimes be found during a prenatal (before birth) ultrasound. Most often, however, neuroblastoma is found after the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, which are tiny, bean-shaped organs that help fight infection, liver, lungs, bones, and bone marrow, the spongy, red tissue in the inner part of large bones.
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