Neuroblastoma is a rare cancer that affects children, mostly under the age of 5 years old. Around 100 children are diagnosed with neuroblastoma each year in the UK. Very rarely it can occur in older children, teenagers and adults. Neuroblastoma develops from particular types of nerve cells called neuroblasts. 1. ‘Neuro’ means nerve 2. ‘Blast’ means cells in early development 3. ‘Oma’ means a group of cells, or a tumour. Neuroblastoma is the most common form of malignant solid tumor during childhood. Japan is the only country in which mass screening for neuroblastoma has been adopted as a national policy, and the program has been conducted since 1984.
In 2001, urine samples from 1,170,662 infants six months of age (90.4 percent of eligible infants of that age in Japan) were tested for homovanillic acid and vanilmandelic acid (metabolites of catecholamines produced by neuroblastoma) by high-performance liquid chromatography, and 180 cases of neuroblastoma were detected. Neuroblastomas often produce substances called catecholamines (cat-a-coal-ay-meens) for example adrenaline. The adrenal glands make catecholamines. They are chemical messengers that send messages between nerve cells. Our bodies break them down into substances that we pass out in urine.