Risk Factors for Neuroblastoma

A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors.

Lifestyle-related risk factors such as body weight, physical activity, diet, and tobacco use play a major role in many adult cancers. But these factors usually take many years to influence cancer risk, and they are not thought to play much of a role in childhood cancers, including neuroblastomas.

No environmental factors (such as being exposed during the mother’s pregnancy or in early childhood) are known to increase the chance of getting neuroblastoma.


Neuroblastoma is most common in very young children, but it is still rare even in this age group. It is very rare in people over the age of 10 years.


In about 1% to 2% of all neuroblastomas, children inherit an increased risk of developing neuroblastoma from a parent. But most neuroblastomas do not seem to be inherited.

Children with the familial form of neuroblastoma (those with an inherited tendency to develop this cancer) usually come from families with one or more members who had neuroblastoma as infants. The average age at diagnosis of familial cases is younger than the age for sporadic (not inherited) cases.

Children with familial neuroblastoma sometimes develop 2 or more of these cancers in different organs (for example, in both adrenal glands or in more than one sympathetic ganglion). It’s important to distinguish neuroblastomas that start in more than one organ from neuroblastomas that have started in one organ and then spread to others (metastatic neuroblastomas). When tumors develop in several places at once it suggests a familial form. This might mean that family members should consider genetic counseling and testing (see Genetic Testing: What You Need to Know). Both familial and neuroblastoma that is not inherited can spread to other organs.

Having birth defects (congenital anomalies)

Some studies have shown that children with birth defects might have an increased risk of developing neuroblastoma. Some of the link between birth defects and neuroblastoma might be related to changes in genes that happen during fetal development.

Genes are made of DNA, which is a chemical inside our cells. Genes are instructions that tell our body cells what to do. Fetal development, which happens in a mother's uterus, is also directed by genes that tell the cells how to grow and divide. If cell growth and development doesn't happen normally in the fetus, it can cause a birth defect. Changes in genes that happen during fetal development might contribute to a birth defect and increase the risk of some kinds of childhood cancers, like neuroblastoma. That doesn't mean all children with birth defects will get neuroblastoma. More research is needed to understand the relationship between birth defects and risk of childhood cancer. For more information about genes and causes of neuroblastoma, see What Causes Neuroblastoma?


The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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Graham Fisher P, Reynolds P, Von Behren J, et al. Cancer in children with nonchromosomal birth defects. J Pediatr. 2012; 160: 978-983.

Norwood M, Lupo P, Chow E, et al. Childhood cancer risk in  those with chromosomal and non-chromosomal congenital anomalies in Washington State: 1984-2013.  PLoS. 2017; 12: e0179006.   Accessed at http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0179006 on October 13, 2017.

Last Revised: March 19, 2018

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