What Is The Difference Between Neuroblastoma And Wilms Tumor

Pediatric cancers, though relatively rare, have a profound impact on young patients and their families. Among these, Neuroblastoma and Wilms Tumor stand out due to their unique characteristics and the age groups they typically affect. Each condition triggers a distinct set of challenges, influencing how treatment is approached.

Neuroblastoma is a cancer that develops from immature nerve cells found in several areas of the body, most commonly affecting children aged five or younger. Wilms Tumor, on the other hand, is a type of kidney cancer primarily seen in children under the age of five. Despite their prevalence in similar age groups, the origins, symptoms, and treatments of these diseases differ significantly.

Both Neuroblastoma and Wilms Tumor require prompt and specific diagnostic measures and treatment protocols. Their management varies considerably, not just in the type of treatments used but also in how their progression is monitored and assessed by healthcare professionals.

Defining Neuroblastoma

Origin and Nature

Neuroblastoma originates from neuroblasts, the precursor cells to the sympathetic nervous system. These cells are part of the nervous system that controls automatic body functions like heart rate and blood pressure. The cancer typically forms in and around the adrenal glands, which sit atop the kidneys and are an integral part of the hormone-producing system of the body. However, it can also develop in nerve tissues along the spine, chest, abdomen, or pelvis.

Common Symptoms

The symptoms of neuroblastoma can vary significantly depending on the tumor’s location. Common signs include:

  • A palpable lump or mass in the abdomen, neck, or chest that may cause swelling
  • Pain from the mass pressing on nearby tissues and organs
  • Fever and malaise without any clear cause
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Wheezing or difficulty breathing if the tumor is in the chest area
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Understanding Wilms Tumor

Origin and Nature

Wilms Tumor, or nephroblastoma, is a cancer that primarily affects the kidneys. It most often occurs in just one kidney, though it can sometimes be found in both. The tumor arises from immature kidney cells, which for reasons not fully understood, begin to grow uncontrollably, forming a mass.

Common Symptoms

Children with Wilms Tumor typically exhibit:

  • An abdominal swelling or mass that can be felt on physical examination
  • Blood in the urine, which may cause it to appear pink, red, or cola-colored
  • Fever, nausea, or vomiting
  • High blood pressure, which is less common but can be caused by the tumor affecting kidney function

Key Differences

Location and Development

Neuroblastoma: Location in the Body

Neuroblastoma usually starts in the adrenal glands above the kidneys but can also develop anywhere along the sympathetic nervous system.

Wilms Tumor: Location in the Body

Wilms Tumor is exclusively a kidney-based cancer and typically develops in the kidney’s nephrons, which are involved in filtering blood and producing urine.

Age of Onset

Typical Age for Neuroblastoma

This cancer is most common in children under the age of 5, with the majority of cases diagnosed by age 2.

Typical Age for Wilms Tumor

Wilms Tumor is generally diagnosed in children between the ages of 3 and 4, and it is rare after the age of 5.

Symptoms Comparison

Unique Symptoms of Neuroblastoma

Neuroblastoma may cause:

  • Horner’s syndrome (drooping eyelid and small pupil on one side of the face)
  • Compression of spinal nerves leading to limb weakness or paralysis
  • Dark circles, like bruises, around the eyes

Unique Symptoms of Wilms Tumor

Specific to Wilms Tumor are:

  • Noticeable swelling or a mass within the abdomen
  • High blood pressure resulting from the tumor’s effect on kidney function

Treatment Approaches

Treatment Strategies for Neuroblastoma

Treatment for neuroblastoma may include:

  • Surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible
  • Chemotherapy to target cancer cells
  • Radiation therapy, particularly if the tumor has spread
  • Stem cell transplant in high-risk cases
  • Immunotherapy to help the immune system fight cancer cells

Treatment Strategies for Wilms Tumor

Wilms Tumor treatment generally involves:

  • Surgery to remove the affected kidney (nephrectomy)
  • Preoperative and/or postoperative chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy in cases where the tumor is particularly large or has spread beyond the kidney
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Prognosis Factors

Prognostic Indicators for Neuroblastoma

The prognosis for neuroblastoma varies widely and depends on:

  • The age of the child at diagnosis
  • The stage of the disease
  • Tumor histology and genetics

Prognostic Indicators for Wilms Tumor

Wilms Tumor generally has a very good prognosis, especially if:

  • The tumor is detected early and has not spread
  • Surgery and treatment begin promptly
  • The child is younger at the time of diagnosis

Diagnostic Techniques

Tests for Neuroblastoma

Diagnosing neuroblastoma involves a series of tests designed to confirm the presence of cancer and determine its extent. These tests include:

  • Imaging Tests: X-rays, ultrasound, CT scans, and MRI help visualize the location and size of tumors.
  • MIBG Scan (Metaiodobenzylguanidine): A radioactive substance is injected into the body, which is absorbed by neuroblastoma cells and can be detected by a special camera.
  • Biopsy: A tissue sample is taken from the tumor to confirm the presence of neuroblastoma cells.
  • Bone Marrow Aspiration and Biopsy: This determines if the cancer has spread to the bone marrow.
  • Urine Catecholamine Tests: High levels of dopamine and norepinephrine can indicate neuroblastoma.

Tests for Wilms Tumor

For Wilms Tumor, diagnostic procedures focus on the kidneys and surrounding areas:

  • Ultrasound: This is often the first test done, allowing doctors to see a mass in the kidney.
  • CT Scan and MRI: These provide detailed images of the kidney and can show whether the tumor has spread.
  • Chest X-ray: This checks if the cancer has metastasized to the lungs.
  • Blood Tests: Assess kidney function and overall health.
  • Surgical Biopsy: Performed to definitively diagnose Wilms Tumor by examining cells from the tumor.

Impact on Families

Emotional and Psychological Impacts

The diagnosis of cancer in a child can lead to a wide range of emotional and psychological effects on family members, including:

  • Stress and Anxiety: Constant worry about the health and future of the child.
  • Depression: Feelings of sadness or hopelessness can affect both parents and siblings.
  • Guilt: Parents might feel responsible or guilty about their child’s illness.
  • Disruption: Normal family routines and dynamics are often significantly disrupted.

Support Systems and Resources

To help families cope, several support systems and resources are available:

  • Support Groups: These groups provide a platform for sharing experiences and feelings with other families going through similar situations.
  • Counseling Services: Professional help for children and their families to manage emotional stress.
  • Medical Teams: Ongoing communication with doctors and nurses can provide reassurance and clarity about treatment processes and expectations.
  • Educational Resources: Books, websites, and pamphlets that explain the medical aspects of the diseases in understandable terms.
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Recent Advances

Innovations in Neuroblastoma Treatment

Recent advancements in the treatment of neuroblastoma focus on increasing survival rates and minimizing side effects. These include:

  • Immunotherapy: Using drugs like dinutuximab that target neuroblastoma cells, helping the immune system destroy them.
  • Targeted Therapy: Drugs designed to target specific genetic mutations found in some neuroblastoma tumors.
  • MIBG Therapy: A radioactive form of iodine is combined with MIBG to deliver radiation directly to cancer cells, sparing healthy tissue.

Innovations in Wilms Tumor Treatment

Treatment innovations for Wilms Tumor aim to improve efficacy and reduce complications:

  • Robotic Surgery: Allows for more precise removal of tumors and helps reduce recovery times.
  • Genetic Testing: Helps tailor treatments based on the genetic profile of the tumor, potentially improving outcomes.
  • Biological Therapies: Research is ongoing into drugs that specifically target abnormal proteins in cancer cells.


What is Neuroblastoma?

Neuroblastoma is a cancer originating from neuroblasts, the precursor cells of the sympathetic nervous system. It most commonly affects the adrenal glands but can also develop in nerve tissues in the neck, chest, abdomen, or pelvis.

What is Wilms Tumor?

Wilms Tumor, also known as nephroblastoma, is a cancer of the kidneys that typically occurs in children. It is the most common type of kidney cancer in children and involves malignant growths in one or both kidneys.

How are Neuroblastoma and Wilms Tumor diagnosed?

Diagnosis of Neuroblastoma often involves a combination of imaging tests, biopsy, urine catecholamine tests, and bone marrow aspirate. Wilms Tumor is typically diagnosed using ultrasound and MRI to visualize the tumor, followed by surgical biopsy to confirm the type of cancer.

What treatments are available for these cancers?

Treatment for Neuroblastoma may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, stem cell transplants, and immunotherapy, depending on the stage and risk group. Wilms Tumor is generally treated with surgery to remove the tumor, followed by chemotherapy and sometimes radiation therapy, depending on the stage and histology of the tumor.

How do the prognoses of these cancers differ?

The prognosis for each cancer depends significantly on the stage at diagnosis and the specific characteristics of the tumor. Generally, Wilms Tumor has a high cure rate with proper treatment, while Neuroblastoma can vary, with some cases being very aggressive.


Recognizing the differences between Neuroblastoma and Wilms Tumor is crucial for effective treatment and management. These cancers, though they may affect similar age groups and share certain symptoms, have distinct characteristics that necessitate specialized care strategies.

The advancement in pediatric oncology has led to improved outcomes for children with these conditions. Continued research and tailored treatment approaches remain vital in enhancing survival rates and the quality of life for affected children and their families.

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