Neuroblastoma in Adults

Updated July 19, 2017

Neuroblastoma is very rare in adults; it is most commonly found in children. However, adults can get this disease, and it can last longer for them than for children. Treatment for adults must be aggressive because the prognosis is generally poor. Neuroblastoma typically starts in the sympathetic nervous system and can usually be found in or around the adrenal glands. It can grow in the vertebrae, chest, pelvis, abdomen, thigh or neck.


Neuroblasts, which are nerve cells that haven't fully developed or matured, can grow and multiply to form a tumour, which is the neuroblastoma. These cells are usually formed in a foetus, and most of the time, the neuroblasts will fully develop and mature, but it is possible that some will be left behind and will band together to form the tumour. A direct cause of this is unknown. It is possible that neuroblastoma can be passed down through family genetics, but this is not always the case.


Symptoms for adults have a much longer duration than for children, and depend on where the tumour is located in the body. A tumour in the abdomen will grow and press on other organs, possibly causing you to become constipated; it may press on your bladder, causing urinary urgency. You may feel bloated and have abdominal pain. Oedema may be present in the lower extremities as well. It may cause your kidney or liver to broaden, possibly leading to jaundice or fluid build-up in the abdominal area. If the tumour is in the chest, you may have problems breathing and your face may be swollen.
Other symptoms may include loss of weight, diarrhoea, fever, pain in the bones and the back, bruising around the eyes, and your eyes may protrude. Your blood pressure and pulse may also increase. Weakness or paralysis are possibilities.

Diagnostic Procedures

Your doctor will probably start the testing with blood work and urine tests. This may be followed by different image studies to better see inside your body to determine where the problem lies. These tests might include X-rays, CAT scans or an MRI. An ultrasound may also be done. Bone scans may be performed, especially if metastasis, or spreading of the cancer, is likely. If your doctor finds a tumour, he or she will likely do a biopsy to determine what exactly it is, or a bone marrow biopsy to see if it has spread.
If your tests point to neuroblastoma, your doctor will then stage your tumour (stages 1-4), depending on the size of the tumour and how far it has spread.


Treatment for adults needs to be aggressive and include chemotherpay, radiation and surgery (to remove the tumour and certain lymph nodes if metastasis has occurred). It's possible you may need a bone marrow transplant as well.
It's important for you to work as closely as possible with your doctor so that you can receive the best treatments available; alternative treatments may be available to help with the effects of the aggressive medical treatments you are undergoing. Some of these might include diet supplements, yoga or meditation, accupunture or accupressure, or similar naturopathic remedies.


If you find out you have neuroblastoma, don't feel like all is lost. Although it is not a good diagnosis to receive as an adult, there are ways to fight this disease. Start researching and getting to know everything you can about this condition. There are so many resources online and in your community through local hospitals and organisations. Find other people who have this condition, and lean on each other for support.

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