Cancer begins when normal 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 spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor means the tumor 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.
Neuroblastoma accounts for 6% of all childhood cancers in the United States, with about 700 children younger than 15 diagnosed each year. It is the third most common tumor in children and the most common cancer in babies younger than one. 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.