Neuroblastoma Program

The Neuroblastoma Program provides expert, family-centered care for children, adolescents and young adults based on the latest clinical research. Our multidisciplinary team is here for the entire family, throughout every stage of the child’s care.

Neuroblastoma is a cancerous tumor that occurs in nerve tissue. Most often diagnosed in young children (under age 5), symptoms may initially be vague and will vary depending on the size and location. As the tumor is often found in the abdomen, the child may have a swollen belly and complain of feeling full or having pain. Other symptoms may include urination, diarrhea or constipation.

If the tumor is in the chest, it can cause swelling in the face, neck, arms and upper chest, and make it hard for the child to breathe. Tumors in the brain can cause headaches and dizziness, and those pressing on the spine can cause difficulty walking or weakness. Read more about neuroblastoma.

To make a diagnosis, we take a complete medical history, perform a complete physical exam and order specialized tests.

The treatment approach we take depends on a number of factors, including the child’s age, the location of the tumor and where it has spread, whether the child is being treated for the first time or has had a relapse, and the treatment’s risks. Treatment most often involves chemotherapy, followed by surgery to remove the primary tumor and radiation to prevent the cancer from recurring or to treat pain. Immunotherapy may be given to help the body fight the cancer. Specialized treatments are also used that target the cancer cells.

Our specialists are known for their medical and surgical expertise, as well as for treating some of the most complex cases. Surgery is performed in a new, state-of-the-art surgery suite by Nicholas Saenz, M.D., who has special expertise in pediatric surgical oncology. He has also been named a “2012 Top Doctor” by San Diego Magazine.

Research and Clinical Trials

Along with providing expert care, we have an active neuoblastoma research program. In the clinical research area, Rady Children’s, in collaboration with UC San Diego School of Medicine, is one of the four founders of the Neuroblastoma and Medulloblastoma Translational Research Consortium, a group of children’s hospitals and universities dedicated to developing more effective therapies for the two childhood cancers. Since the consortium’s inception, William Roberts, M.D., Director of the Peckham Center and Division Chief, Pediatric Hematology/Oncology, Dept. of Pediatrics, UC San Diego, has served as the Rady Children’s/UC San Diego principal investigator. Click here for active clinical trials.

Through our alliance with UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center, we also seek to bring discoveries made in the lab to the patient’s bedside. The lab of Donald Durden, M.D., Ph.D, for example, is working to identify specific mechanisms that contribute to cancer growth or metastasis (the spread of cancer) for which targeted drug therapies can then be developed. Target discovery holds the promise of improving and individualizing cancer therapy in the years to come. Read more about the Durden lab’s research at