Neuroblastoma: Stem Cells Used to Treat Childhood Cancer


Neuroblastoma is a rare type of cancer that most commonly affects babies and young children.

  • ‘neuro’ means nerve
  • ‘blast’ means cells in early development
  • ‘oma’ means a group of cells, or a tumour

Like other cancers neuroblastoma can spread to other parts of the body, most commonly the bones, liver and skin. This happens in about half of children with neuroblastoma as the cancer spreads through the blood and lymphatic system. [ii]

The cause of neuroblastoma is unknown and while there are very rare cases where children in the same family are affected, neuroblastoma generally doesn’t run in families. [iii]


Symptoms of neuroblastoma

The most common symptom is a lump in the abdomen, which can make the child’s tummy swell, causing discomfort or pain. If the spinal cord is affected, the child may feel numbness, weakness and loss of movement in the lower part of the body.

In around half of children the neuroblastoma has already spread to another part of the body at diagnosis. The symptoms depend on where it has spread to but are often vague such as tiredness, fever (high temperatures) and loss of appetite. [iv]


Treatments for neuroblastoma

Neuroblastoma can be treated in four ways: Surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.

The right treatment will be different for each child and will depend on the stage of the neuroblastoma:

  • Stages 1 and 2 (L1) – the cancer is in one site and has not spread. It may be possible to remove it completely with surgery
  • Stage 3 (L2) – the cancer has spread to local structures, but not to distant parts of the body.
  • Stage 4 – the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body.

Because neuroblastoma usually presents as Stage 3 or 4 in the toddler or older age group, strong drug treatments are often required from the outset. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are brilliantly effective in destroying neuroblastoma, but unfortunately, they also kill some of the beneficial stem cells in the patient’s bone marrow.


Stem cell transplants for neuroblastoma

Haematopoietic (blood) stem cells (HSCs), are the precursors of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets and are able to regenerate and differentiate to repair and replace diseased cells. HSCs from the patient or a donor can also be used after chemotherapy or radiotherapy to accelerate healing and reduce recovery times in children treated for neuroblastoma.


Umbilical cord blood transplant (UCBT)

The umbilical cord and placenta are rich in HSCs. Because cord blood stem cells are so young, they are more energetic, powerful and healthy than adult stem cells. UCBT is similar to a bone marrow transplant, but blood counts recover more quickly, so the patient is at risk of infection for a shorter time.[v]

With clinical trials revealing more and more therapeutic benefits of umbilical cord blood stem cell treatments, there has never been a better time to store cord blood and protect with stem cell insurance.


“Cord blood may be a feasible alternative stem cell source for auto-SCT in [autologous Stem Cell Treatment] patients with Stage 4 neuroblastoma, and outcomes may be improved compared to autologous PBSC [Peripheral Blood Stem Cells] or BM [Bone Marrow] transplants.” (Ning B et al. [vi]


Case Study: Frances Everall

Frances was four years old when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma. Her case was so grave that doctors suggested that she be taken home for palliative care and allowed to die.

Fortunately, Frances’ parents had chosen to bank their daughter’s cord blood at birth. This decision changed their lives: they knew that Frances’ cord blood could give her a chance to live and insisted that their daughter continue to receive treatment.

Frances underwent eight hours of surgery to remove the cancerous tumour caused by her neuroblastoma, followed by six cycles of chemotherapy and radiotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. Finally, Frances received her own cord blood stem cells to boost her immune system. It worked, and Frances went into remission. [vii]


“It’s like a pot plant that is left to wither, but then you remember to water it and you see it come to life again. She really turned a corner. Her family never expected to see this day.”

(Family spokeswoman Kristina Andersen) [viii]


The CellPlan difference

Cord blood stem cell transplantation saves the lives of patients like Frances Everall, but treatment remains expensive, often reaching hundreds of thousands of pounds. CellPlan covers not just medical expenses up to £1,000,000 but also travel and accommodation expenses for the patient and a family member so that you never feel alone.

CellPlan member and grandmother Gill Sepe says: “When I read on the CellPlan website that my family would have access to the world’s leading  stem cell experts and clinics,I felt that, should anything happen, my grandchildren would be in the very best hands.” [ix]


How to access CellPlan protection

 Applying for CellPlan insurance is easy. You can request a quote, brochure, or call back here.





The information in this article is for information only and is not intended to replace the advice of a medical expert. If you have any health concerns you should discuss them with your doctor.

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