Cancer Research Project

by Deba Elaiho

What is cancer?

Cancer is a rapid growth in cell division. The clumps of cancerous cells are called tumors. Tumors can be either be benign or malignant. Benign tumors are contained and can be easily removed, while malignant tumors can metastasize, or break off, and spread to other areas, making it hard to cure or remove. Carcinogens are agents that can cause cancer.

Types of Cancer: Neuroblastoma Overview

Neuroblastoma is a type of cancer that effects the nerve cells outside the brain of infants and young children. The cancerous tumor can start in the nerve tissue near the spine in the neck, chest, abdomen, or pelvis, but it most often begins in the adrenal glands.

Causes of Neuroblastoma

Neuroblasts are immature nerve cells found in unborn babies. Normal neuroblasts mature into nerve cells or adrenal medulla cells, which are cells found in the center of the adrenal gland. Neuroblastoma forms when neuroblasts don’t mature properly. Neuroblastoma develops most often in infants and children younger than five. It can form before the baby is born and can sometimes be found during a prenatal (before birth) ultrasound. Most often, however, neuroblastomas are found after the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, liver, lungs, bones, and bone marrow.

Signs & Symptoms & Their Effects

Children with neuroblastoma may experience some symptoms or signs. Sometimes, children with neuroblastoma do not show any of these symptoms, because they could be caused by something that is not cancer. Many symptoms of neuroblastoma are caused by pressure from the tumor or bone pain if the cancer has spread to the bones which may cause the child to limp, refuse to walk, or become unable to walk. Other signs and symptoms include:

  • A lump or mass in the abdomen, chest, neck, or pelvis

  • Skin lesions or nodules under the skin with blue or purple patches

  • Eyes that bulge out and dark circles under the eyes, if the cancer has spread behind the eyes

  • Changes in the eyes, such as black eyes, a droopy eyelid, a pupil that is constricted, vision problems, or changes in the color of the iris

  • Pain in the chest, difficulty breathing, or a persistent cough

  • Pain in the back or weakness, numbness, or paralysis of the legs (if the tumor has spread to the spinal cord)

  • Fever and anemia sometimes occur.

  • Neuroblastoma is one of the few cancers in children that releases hormones, causing symptoms such as constant diarrhea or high blood pressure.

  • Rarely, patients can have rotating movements of the eyes and sudden muscle jerks. These symptoms are likely from immune system problems caused by the disease.

Types of Treatments

In general, cancer in children is uncommon, so it can be hard for doctors to plan treatments unless they know what has been most effective in other children. That’s why more than 60% of children with cancer are treated as part of a clinical trial. Most of the children apart of the clinical trial are treated at a specialized cancer center. Treatment options and recommendations depend on several factors, including the size and location of the tumor, whether the cancer has spread, the risk classification, possible side effects, family preferences, and the child’s overall health. Surgery, Chemotherapy, Radiation therapy, Stem cell transportation/Bone marrow transplants, and Immunotherapy are just some of the treatments available for the child. The child’s care plan may also include treatment for symptoms and side effects, an important part of cancer care.

Survival Rate

The five-year survival rate for children with low-risk and intermediate-risk neuroblastoma is higher than 95%. For children in the immediate-risk group, the five-year survival rate is 90% to 95%. For children with high-risk neuroblastoma, the five-year survival rate is 40% to 50%. If the child receives successful treatment, then their prognosis and life span should be good.



Research Questions

1) How many cells do we have in our body?

  • 37.2 trillion

2) What is a stem cell? How does a liver cell differ from a stomach cell?

  • A stem cell is a cell that can divide for long periods of time while remaining undifferentiated. Liver and Stomach cells are different shapes and they produce and secrete different substances.

3) What is a cell’s main purpose in life?

  • To survive and reproduce, so that the cell cycle may continue.

4) How does cancer get started? (carcinogenesis?)

  • Carcinogenesis is the process in which normal cells turn into cancer cells. Mutations in genes occur during carcinogenesis. These mutations can cause normal controls in cells to break down and when this happens, cells do not die when they should and new cells are produced when the body does not need them. The buildup of extra cells may cause a mass (tumor) to form. The tumor can either be benign or malignant. The differences between the two were previously explained.

5) What is a mistake in a cell’s genetic information called?

  • Mutation

6) How does a cell usually deal with these mistakes?

  • A whole set of proteins are involved in what is known as the DNA repair machinery pathway which fixes any errors, defects, or mutations in the DNA sequence.

7) What is apoptosis?

  • Programmed cell death

8) What is the key to preventing and treating cancer?

  • You can prevent cancer by limiting your exposure to carcinogens. However, if you become a victim to cancer, your doctor can treat it by removing all visible cancer to keep it from spreading or getting worse.

Additional Questions by Me!

1. About how many people are affected by cancer?
  • About half of all men and one-third of all women in the US will develop cancer during their lifetimes. Over one and a half million new cancer cases are diagnosed each year.

2. What are some types of carcinogens that we are exposed to everyday?

  • Radiation from the sun, certain chemicals, tobacco usage, hormone drugs, household exposures, and workplace exposures

3. What is remission?

  • Remission is a period of time when the cancer is responding to treatment or is under control. In a complete remission, all the signs and symptoms of cancer go away and cancer cells can’t be detected by any of the tests available for that cancer. It’s also possible for a patient to have a partial remission which is when the cancer shrinks but doesn’t completely disappear.
Neuroblastoma made easy