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The University of Chicago Medicine - Comer Children's Hospital

Neuroblastoma: Diagnosis and Treatment

Physicians at the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital specialize in diagnosing and treating neuroblastoma in babies, children, teenagers – and even adults. Our team sees patients with all types of neuroblastoma, including very aggressive forms. We work with each patient and their family to ensure an accurate diagnosis and create an individualized plan for treating the tumor.

Diagnostic Tools

Accurate diagnosis is an important first step for treating neuroblastoma. In addition, determining whether the disease is low-, intermediate- or high-risk is essential for guiding treatment decisions. Our physicians will complete a thorough physical exam and may use some or all of the following tools to confirm or rule out the presence of a tumor:

  • Blood and urine tests, to check for the presence of certain proteins associated with neuroblastoma
  • Computed tomography (CT), a non-invasive imaging procedure that uses X-rays to evaluate the primary tumor size and whether the tumor has spread .
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a tool that uses magnetic fields and computers to evaluate the location of the tumor.
  • MIBG scan, to evaluate whether the tumor has spread to the bone and/or bone marrow
  • Bone marrow biopsy and aspirate: to determine if the tumor has spread to the bone marrow
  • Surgery, to examine the tumor under a microscope and to perform additional tests on the tumor tissue

Pathologists at Comer Children's and the Children's Oncology Group Reference Laboratory analyze tissue samples to look for certain genetic and biological factors, such as the presence or absence of specific chromosomal abnormities. The results from these detailed pathology studies provide important details about the unique nature of each child's disease and are used in planning treatment.

Neuroblastoma Treatments

While the goal of all treatment is to remove or destroy the tumor, the specific approach will depend on the course of each patient's disease, as well as his or her age and overall health.

Low- and Intermediate-Risk Neuroblastoma

Surgery often is the first-line of treatment for children with localized, low-risk neuroblastoma. Occasionally, the tumor goes away on its own, without treatment. Patients with intermediate-risk neuroblastoma often undergo surgery and chemotherapy. Our physicians will determine the appropriate chemotherapy regimen based on the biologic features of the tumor. Low- and intermediate-risk neuroblastoma are both highly curable forms of the disease.

High-Risk Neuroblastoma 

Children with more aggressive neuroblastoma require intensive treatment that may include:

Some patients with high-risk neuroblastoma are not cured with standard treatment approaches. It is important to seek medical care from physicians with expertise and extensive cancer-focused resources. Treatments for patients who have neuroblastoma that does not respond to standard treatment or that recurs include:

Learn more: University of Chicago pediatric cancer experts wrote about neuroblastoma for the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Support and Long-Term Care

Children coping with challenging diagnoses often have ongoing medical, emotional, social and developmental needs. Our doctors, nurses, social workers and child life specialists recognize these issues and can provide your family with resources and tools to help you cope and stay informed.

» Learn more about some of the resources we offer.

Children who have survived cancer may face other health issues as they grow older. To meet these challenges, Comer Children’s created the Childhood Cancer Survivors Center. This unique Center also helps young patients address some of the social and emotional concerns they may have as cancer survivors.

In addition, Comer Children's is home the Pediatric Familial Cancer Clinic. The goal of this program is to help children and their families who may have an increased risk of cancer. Our experts perform risk assessments, genetic counseling and provide coordinated care to reduce any risk.