After neuroblastoma has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer has spread from where it started to other parts of the body.
The process used to find out the extent or spread of cancer is called staging. The information gathered from the staging process helps determine the stage of the disease. For neuroblastoma, stage is one of the factors used to plan treatment. The following tests and procedures may be used to determine the stage:
Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy: The removal of bone marrow, blood, and a small piece of bone by inserting a hollow needle into the hipbone or breastbone. A pathologist views the bone marrow, blood, and bone under a microscope to look for signs of cancer.
Lymph nodebiopsy: The removal of all or part of a lymph node. A pathologist views the tissue under a microscope to look for cancer cells. One of the following types of biopsies may be done:
Excisional biopsy: The removal of an entire lymph node.
Incisional biopsy: The removal of part of a lymph node.
Core biopsy: The removal of tissue from a lymph node using a wide needle.
Fine-needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy: The removal of tissue or fluid from a lymph node using a thin needle.
CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.
MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).
X-rays of the chest, bones, and abdomen: An x-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.
Ultrasound exam: A procedure in which high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) are bounced off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram. The picture can be printed to be looked at later.
Radionuclide scan: A procedure to find areas in the body where cells, such as cancer cells, are dividing rapidly. A very small amount of radioactive material is swallowed or injected into a vein and travels through the bloodstream. The radioactive material collects in the bones or other tissues and is detected by a radiation-measuring device.
There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.
Through tissue. Cancer invades the surrounding normal tissue.
Through the lymph system. Cancer invades the lymph system and travels through the lymph vessels to other places in the body.
Through the blood. Cancer invades the veins and capillaries and travels through the blood to other places in the body.
When cancer cells break away from the primary (original) tumor and travel through the lymph or blood to other places in the body, another (secondary) tumor may form. This process is called metastasis. The secondary (metastatic) tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if breast cancer spreads to the bones, the cancer cells in the bones are actually breast cancer cells. The disease is metastatic breast cancer, not bone cancer.
The following stages are used for neuroblastoma:
In stage 1, the tumor is in only one area and all of the tumor that can be seen is completely removed during surgery.
Stage 2 is divided into stage 2A and 2B.
Stage 2A: The tumor is in only one area and all of the tumor that can be seen cannot be completely removed during surgery.
Stage 2B: The tumor is in only one area and all of the tumor that can be seen may be completely removed during surgery. Cancercells are found in the lymph nodes near the tumor.
In stage 3, one of the following is true:
the tumor cannot be completely removed during surgery and has spread from one side of the body to the other side and may also have spread to nearby lymph nodes; or
the tumor is in only one area, on one side of the body, but has spread to lymph nodes on the other side of the body; or
the tumor is in the middle of the body and has spread to tissues or lymph nodes on both sides of the body, and the tumor cannot be removed by surgery.
Stage 4 is divided into stage 4 and stage 4S.
In stage 4, the tumor has spread to distant lymph nodes, the skin, or other parts of the body.
In stage 4S, the following are true:
the child is younger than 1 year; and
the cancer has spread to the skin, liver, and/or bone marrow; and
the tumor is in only one area and all of the tumor that can be seen may be completely removed during surgery; and/or
cancer cells may be found in the lymph nodes near the tumor.
Treatment of neuroblastoma is based on risk groups.
For many types of cancer, stages are used to plan treatment. For neuroblastoma, treatment depends on risk groups. The stage of neuroblastoma is one factor used to determine risk group. Other factors are the age of the child, tumor histology, and tumor biology.
There are 3 risk groups: low risk, intermediate risk, and high risk.
Low-risk and intermediate-risk neuroblastoma have a good chance of being cured.
High-risk neuroblastoma may be difficult to cure.