Most people have never heard of neuroblastoma, a rare type of cancer that almost always affects infants and young children. It's actually the most common type of cancer in infants. Although neuroblastoma sometimes forms before a child is born, it usually isn't found until later, when the tumor begins to grow and affect the body. When neuroblastoma is diagnosed in infancy, the chance of recovery is good. Based on 257 neuroblastoma patients in the age group 0-14 years and reported to the Finnish Cancer Registry, the 5-year cumulative survival rates have improved from 15% in the 1950s to 57% in 1980-1986.
The potential benefit of screening for neuroblastoma was assessed on the basis of these nationwide survival trends. It is likely that any decrease in the overall neuroblastoma mortality due to screening would be small, because the survival rates of the Finnish neuroblastoma patients are already, even without screening, similar to those in Japan, which has a nationwide public health policy to screen for neuroblastoma. Neuroblastoma is a rare disease in which a solid tumor (a lump or mass caused by uncontrolled or abnormal cell growth) is formed by special nerve cells called neuroblasts. Normally, these immature cells grow and mature into functioning nerve cells.