Neuroblastoma is the most common extracranial solid cancer in childhood and the most common cancer in infancy, with an annual incidence of about 650 new cases per year in the US. Close to 50 percent of neuroblastoma cases occur in children younger than two years old. It is a neuroendocrine tumor, arising from any neural crest element of the sympathetic nervous system or SNS. It most frequently originates in one of the adrenal glands, but can also develop in nerve tissues in the neck, chest, abdomen, or pelvis.
Neuroblastoma is one of the few human malignancies known to demonstrate spontaneous regression from an undifferentiated state to a completely benign cellular appearance. It is a disease exhibiting extreme heterogeneity, and is stratified into three risk categories: low, intermediate, and high risk. Low-risk disease is most common in infants and good outcomes are common with observation only or surgery, whereas high-risk disease is difficult to treat successfully even with the most intensive multi-modal therapies available.
Esthesioneuroblastoma, also known as olfactory neuroblastoma, is believed to arise from the olfactory epithelium and its classification remains controversial. However, since it is not a sympathetic nervous system malignancy it is a distinct clinical entity and is not to be confused with neuroblastoma.
MRI showing orbital and skull vault metastatic NB in 2 year old
The “International Neuroblastoma Staging System” (INSS) established in 1986 and revised in 1988 stratifies neuroblastoma according to its anatomical presence at diagnosis:
Stage 1: Localized tumor confined to the area of origin.
Stage 2A: Unilateral tumor with incomplete gross resection; identifiable ipsilateral and contralateral lymph node negative for tumor.
Stage 2B: Unilateral tumor with complete or incomplete gross resection; with ipsilateral lymph node positive for tumor; identifiable contralateral lymph node negative for tumor.
Stage 3: Tumor infiltrating across midline with or without regional lymph node involvement; or unilateral tumor with contralateral lymph node involvement; or midline tumor with bilateral lymph node involvement.
Stage 4: Dissemination of tumor to distant lymph nodes, bone marrow, bone, liver, or other organs except as defined by Stage 4S.
Stage 4S: Age <1 year old with localized primary tumor as defined in Stage 1 or 2, with dissemination limited to liver, skin, or bone marrow (less than 10 percent of nucleated bone marrow cells are tumors).
Although international agreement on staging (INSS) has been used, the need for an international consensus on risk assignment has also been recognized in order to compare similar cohorts in results of studies. Beginning in 2005, representatives of the major pediatric oncology cooperative groups have met to review data for 8,800 neuroblastoma patients treated in Europe, Japan, USA, Canada, and Australia between 1990 and 2002. This task force has proposed the International Neuroblastoma Risk Group (INRG) classification system. Retrospective studies revealed the high survival rate of 12-18 month old age group, previously categorized as high-risk, and prompted the decision to reclassify 12-18 month old children without N-myc (also commonly referred to as MYCN) amplification to intermediate risk category.
The new INRG risk assignment will classify neuroblastoma at diagnosis based on a new International Neuroblastoma Risk Group Staging System (INRGSS):
Stage L1: Localized disease without image-defined risk factors.
Stage L2: Localized disease with image-defined risk factors.
Stage M: Metastatic disease.
Stage MS: Metastatic disease “special” where MS is equivalent to stage 4S.
The new risk stratification will be based on the new INRGSS staging system, age (dichotomized at 18 months), tumor grade, N-myc amplification, unbalanced 11q aberration, and ploidy into four pre-treatment risk groups: very low, low, intermediate, and high risk.