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 results of tests and procedures used to diagnose neuroblastoma may also be used for staging. See the section for a description of these tests and procedures.
The following tests and procedures also may be used to determine the stage:
- Lumbar puncture: A procedure used to collect cerebrospinal fluid from the spinal column. This is done by placing a needle into the spinal column. This procedure is also called an LP or spinal tap.
- Lymph node biopsy: 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.
- 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.
- Bone scan: A procedure to check if there are rapidly dividing cells, such as cancer cells, in the bone. A very small amount of radioactive material is injected into a vein and travels through the bloodstream. The radioactive material collects in the bones with cancer and is detected by a scanner.
There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.
Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood:
- Tissue. The cancer spreads from where it began by growing into nearby areas.
- Lymph system. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the lymph system. The cancer travels through the lymph vessels to other parts of the body.
- Blood. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the blood. The cancer travels through the blood vessels to other parts of the body.
Cancer may spread from where it began to other parts of the body.
When cancer spreads to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. Cancer cells break away from where they began (the primary tumor) and travel through the lymph system or blood.
The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if neuroblastoma spreads to the liver, the cancer cells in the liver are actually neuroblastoma cells. The disease is metastatic neuroblastoma, not liver cancer.
- Lymph system. The cancer gets into the lymph system, travels through the lymph vessels, and forms a tumor (metastatic tumor) in another part of the body.
- Blood. The cancer gets into the blood, travels through the blood vessels, and forms a tumor (metastatic tumor) in another part of the body.
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 stages 2A and 2B.
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 stages 4 and 4S.
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 three 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 hard to cure.