How do we diagnose neuroblastoma in children?
First, we’ll examine your child fully, including extra attention to the areas that often show symptoms. Your doctor may also test your child’s urine for chemical levels that may be increased by a neuroblastoma.
If your child has an obvious mass in their body, bone changes or lump under their skin, your doctor may want to perform a biopsy. A biopsy is a surgical procedure done while your child is under general anesthesia to take a small sample of tissue to test for cancer. This can be done by a surgeon or an interventional radiologist depending on what’s best for your child. Your child will not be awake or feel any pain during the procedure. A pathologist (a doctor who specializes in examining tissue) looks at the tissue under a microscope to determine what kind of cells it contains. Generally, it takes a couple days or more for the pathologist to gather all the information needed to make a diagnosis.
What can I expect after a neuroblastoma diagnosis?
If the biopsy leads to a neuroblastoma diagnosis, your child’s doctor will do some additional tests known as tumor staging. These tests identify if the tumor has spread to other parts of the body. Understanding the stage of the tumor helps your child’s doctor determine the most effective treatment.
We use a variety of imaging tests and scans for tumor staging. Tests may include:
- CT scan
- PET scan
- MIBG scan: This test requires an injection of a very small amount of radioactive dye to help us see cancer cells during a scan.
- Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy: We use a needle to remove bone marrow (a soft, spongy tissue found inside the bones). This allows us to see if the neuroblastoma has spread into the bone marrow.
Why choose Children’s Colorado for neuroblastoma testing?
We understand that many of the imagining tests used to diagnose neuroblastoma can be challenging for kids. That’s why our imaging team and child life specialists ensure testing is as comfortable and kid-friendly as possible. This can include calming techniques, light sedation or medication to help your child feel more relaxed, or in some cases, general anesthesia. We also utilize imaging machines that use the smallest amount of radiation possible to help protect your child.
In some cases, we can diagnose neuroblastoma during pregnancy using ultrasound — usually in your third trimester. Although we can’t treat neuroblastoma before birth, the world-renowned maternal fetal specialists in our Colorado Fetal Care Center can help monitor your pregnancy and partner with our multidisciplinary team of pediatric specialists to ensure your baby can get the treatment they need as soon as possible after delivery. Often, treating neuroblastoma in babies leads to better outcomes.