Treatment and care of children with cancer is usually provided by a team of health professionals called a multidisciplinary team. Members of this team are specialists in children’s cancers – they understand the differences between children’s cancer and adult cancer, and each team member brings different skills in managing care to meet the needs of both you and your child.
The team will be led by a childhood cancer specialist (paediatric oncologist). Other members of the team depend on the age of your child and their type of disease, and may change over time as your child’s needs change. A list of team members who might make up the multidisciplinary team can be found in The treatment team.
Treatment for neuroblastoma depends on the age of your child, the stage of the disease, the biological features of the cancer and other factors identified during diagnosis. Treatment will be tailored to your child’s particular situation, and may involve one or more of the following (see How is cancer treated for more detail).
Your child is likely to have surgery to remove all or part of the tumour. If the entire tumour can be removed and it has not spread to other parts of the body, your child may not need any other treatment.
Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer medicines to destroy cancer cells. It is often given as a combination of medicines to try to prevent the cancer cells from becoming resistant to just one or two medicines.
Chemotherapy medicines are given together in courses, often over a few days. Once the body has recovered from the side effects, the next course is given. Most children receive multiple courses of chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy may be used:
- before surgery (to shrink the tumour and make it easier to remove)
- after surgery (to destroy any remaining cancer cells)
- as the main treatment (if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, or if surgery is not a good option)
- to relieve symptoms of neuroblastoma.
Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to destroy cancer cells or stop them from growing. Radiation therapy is commonly used to treat children with high-risk neuroblastoma. If radiation therapy is included in your child’s treatment, special care will be taken to reduce the risks.
Radiation therapy can be used to relieve symptoms of neuroblastoma, usually after other treatments have been tried.
Stem cell transplant
Some children with high-risk neuroblastoma may be treated using a stem cell transplant (also known as a bone marrow transplant), in combination with high-dose chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
After the transplant, your child will be given additional treatment known as maintenance therapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells. Maintenance therapy is given for 6 months and may include:
- a vitamin-like medicine that slows the cancer's ability to make more cancer cells
- antibodies and other compounds to stimulate the body’s immune system to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
For a few carefully selected patients, specific treatment may not be needed. If your child has a tumour that is not growing or spreading, they might be monitored closely but not given any treatment until they develop symptoms, or until their symptoms change. In some children (especially very young children), a neuroblastoma will disappear by itself, and no treatment is needed.