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Biology, Sport, Sustainability, Uncategorized

What is neuroblastoma?

As I continue to ride in support of the Sick Kids Foundation through the Great Cycle Challenge Canada, I’m also continuing to learn more about childhood cancer. Through the challenge I’ve heard about incredible kids and their families and the fights that have been won, lost, and are still in progress. They inspire me to get on my bike and ride.

This week, I looked into neuroblastoma. I figured it had something to do with nerves based on the name, but I didn’t realize that it specifically affects are area of the nervous system, the sympathetic system. If you need a quick primer on the nervous system go to the next paragraph, if you’re good skip one paragraph down.

Nervous system primer

The nervous system is divided into the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and peripheral nervous system (all the nerves that reach out to the different parts of your body). Within the peripheral nervous system there are two parts. The somatic nervous system is mostly something we can activate intentionally, such as the muscles I’m using to write this post. The autonomic nervous system though is mostly unconscious. It controls a lot of things that we don’t really have control over like digesting our food or sweating. You may have heard about the fight-or-flight vs rest-and-digest responses. These are the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems respectively. Basically it’s the involuntary ways our bodies respond to periods of stress vs periods of calm. Okay, that’s enough background, onto the cancer.


Neuroblasts are immature nerve cells. If they change so that they aren’t be having normally they may become neuroblastoma (they can also be non cancerous). Neuroblastoma affects the sympathetic division of the nervous system and can therefore start anywhere in this system. This means the symptoms can vary depending on where it occurs. It is most common (about 50%) in the adrenal gland (a gland that sits on top of your kidneys) (American Cancer Society, nd.).

Similar to leukemia last week, the risk factors for neuroblastoma are not ones that you can control. Family history, especially siblings with the disease and a number of genetic conditions are fairly common risk factors. However, it can also occur in children with no apparent risk factors.

Neuroblastoma is diagnosed, on average, at the aged two and a half and 80% of cases occur in children under five. It is very rare in anyone over 10 (Canadian Cancer Society, n.d.)

There are several factors that affect the outcome of neuroblastoma treatments including age and cancer stage (how far it has progressed or spread).

Even within a single type of cancer there is so much variation. This is why research is so important and unfortunately, with the way our world is currently organized we need money to pay for research. This why fundraisers like the Great cycle challenge are so important. There is so much left to discover and hopefully, within the discoveries lie new treatments and cures. If you’re interested in supporting my ride, you can do so from my sponsor page. Any contribution is greatly appreciated.

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


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