Treatments and drugs

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Your child's doctor selects a treatment plan based on several factors that affect your child's prognosis. Factors include your child's age, the stage of the cancer, the type of cells involved in the cancer, and whether there are any abnormalities in the chromosomes and genes.

Your child's doctor uses this information to categorize the cancer as low risk, intermediate risk or high risk. What treatment or combination of treatments your child receives for neuroblastoma depends on the risk category.

Surgery

Surgeons use scalpels and other surgical tools to remove cancer cells. In children with low-risk neuroblastoma, surgery to remove the tumor may be the only treatment needed.

Whether the tumor can be completely removed depends on its location and its size. Tumors that are attached to nearby vital organs — such as the lungs or the spinal cord — may be too risky to remove.

In intermediate-risk and high-risk neuroblastoma, surgeons may try to remove as much of the tumor as possible. Other treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation, may then be used to kill remaining cancer cells.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses chemicals to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy targets rapidly growing cells in the body, including cancer cells. Unfortunately, chemotherapy also damages healthy cells that grow quickly, such as cells in the hair follicles and in the gastrointestinal system, which can cause side effects.

Children with intermediate-risk neuroblastoma often receive a combination of chemotherapy drugs before surgery to improve the chances that the entire tumor can be removed.

Children with high-risk neuroblastoma usually receive high doses of chemotherapy drugs to shrink the tumor and to kill any cancer cells that have spread elsewhere in the body. Chemotherapy is usually used before surgery and before bone marrow stem cell transplant.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams, such as X-rays, to destroy cancer cells.

Children with low-risk or intermediate-risk neuroblastoma may receive radiation therapy if surgery and chemotherapy haven't been helpful. Children with high-risk neuroblastoma may receive radiation therapy after chemotherapy and surgery, to prevent cancer from recurring.

Radiation therapy primarily affects the area where it's aimed, but some healthy cells may be damaged by the radiation. What side effects your child experiences depends on where the radiation is directed and how much radiation is administered.

Stem cell transplant

Children with high-risk neuroblastoma may receive a transplant using their own blood stem cells (autologous stem cell transplant).

Before the stem cell transplant, your child undergoes a procedure that filters and collects stem cells from his or her blood. The stems cells are stored for later use. Then high doses of chemotherapy are used to kill any remaining cancer cells in your child's body. Your child's stem cells are then injected into your child's body, where they can form new, healthy blood cells.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy uses drugs that work by signaling your body's immune system to help fight cancer cells. Children with high-risk neuroblastoma may receive immunotherapy drugs that stimulate the immune system to kill the neuroblastoma cells.

Nov. 20, 2012