Last updated: September 14, 2023

Summarytoggle arrow icon

Neuroblastoma is a malignant neuroendocrine tumor of the sympathetic nervous system that originates from neural crest cells. It is the most common extracranial solid malignancy in children and the most common malignancy found in infants. Given its origin, neuroblastoma can occur in any aggregation of sympathetic nervous tissue, including the adrenal glands, the sympathetic chain, and the paraganglia (e.g., the carotid body). The clinical presentation is mainly determined by the site of the primary tumor, if it secretes catecholamines, and whether it has metastasized. In most cases, neuroblastomas stem from the adrenal glands within the abdominal cavity and present as a palpable abdominal mass that can cross the midline. Urine tests for catecholamine metabolites homovanillic acid (HVA) and vanillylmandelic acid (VMA) play an important role in diagnosis. Treatment is determined mainly by patient age at the time of diagnosis, clinical stage, and possible amplification of the MYCN oncogene. The prognosis depends on disease progression and is very good in early stages. Spontaneous remission may occur even in cases of metastatic disease.

Definitiontoggle arrow icon

Neuroblastoma is a malignant, embryonal neuroendocrine neoplasm of the sympathetic nervous system that originates from neural crest cells; , potentially secretes catecholamines; , and is usually found in the adrenal glands or sympathetic ganglia.

Epidemiologytoggle arrow icon

  • Most common malignancy of the adrenal medulla in infants and third most common childhood cancer overall following leukemia and brain tumors
  • Mean age at diagnosis: 1–2 years
  • The majority of children have progressed to advanced-stage disease by the time of diagnosis.


Epidemiological data refers to the US, unless otherwise specified.

Etiologytoggle arrow icon


Clinical featurestoggle arrow icon

General symptoms

Localized symptoms

Location of primary tumors Associated signs and symptoms

Abdomen (in > 60% of cases)

  • Palpable, firm, irregular abdominal mass that may cross the midline (in contrast to nephroblastoma, which is smooth and usually does not cross the midline)
  • Abdominal distension and pain
  • Hepatomegaly
  • Constipation

Chest (in ∼ 20% of cases): particularly paravertebral ganglia


Location of metastases Associated signs and symptoms

Orbit of the eye



  • Subcutaneous nodules

Paraneoplastic syndromes


Stagestoggle arrow icon

International Neuroblastoma Staging System (INSS) [13]
Stage Definition
  • Any tumor with dissemination to distant lymph nodes or other organs (e.g., bone, liver, skin), with the exception of Stage 4S disease

Diagnosticstoggle arrow icon

Laboratory tests

Other procedures


Pathologytoggle arrow icon


Differential diagnosestoggle arrow icon

The differential diagnoses listed here are not exhaustive.

Treatmenttoggle arrow icon

Neuroblastoma patients are treated based on their risk category (low, intermediate, or high), which is based on the stage of their neuroblastoma (extent of disease), age at diagnosis, and the presence/absence of MYCN amplification.

  • Low risk: generally children with early-stage disease (Stages 1–2) and no MYCN amplification
  • Intermediate risk: generally children with intermediate and late-stage disease (Stages 3–4) and no MYCN amplification
  • High risk: generally children with late-stage disease and/or MYCN amplification
  • Stage 4S (an exception): disseminated disease in infants (< 12 months)
    • Better prognosis than other stage 4 neuroblastoma and spontaneous regression is very common
    • Children with Stage 4S belong to the low-risk or intermediate-risk groups unless they have a MYCN amplification, in which case they are high-risk patients
Treatment of neuroblastoma
Treatment Low-risk neuroblastoma Intermediate-risk neuroblastoma High-risk neuroblastoma
Observation only X
Preoperative chemotherapy (e.g., doxorubicin, cyclophosphamide, etoposide, and a platinum drug) X X X
Surgery X X X
Postoperative chemotherapy X X
Radiation X X
GD2 antibody, dinutuximab, granulocyte macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF), interleukin 2 (IL-2), and cis-retinoic acid X
Other postoperative therapies (e.g., MIBG therapy) X

Spinal cord compression requires immediate surgical decompression or chemotherapy to shrink tumor tissue!


Prognosistoggle arrow icon

  • Prognosis depends on the risk group. Important factors include:
    • Age
    • Children with MYCN amplification are classified as high risk
    • Histopathology, disease dissemination and biochemical markers


Referencestoggle arrow icon

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