Neuroblastoma Surgery

Surgery can be used both to help diagnose neuroblastoma and to treat it. For smaller tumors that have not spread, surgery is often the only treatment that is needed.  

Surgical (open) biopsy

In many cases, doctors need to get a sample of the tumor to be sure it is a neuroblastoma before deciding which treatment might work best. Tumor samples are removed during a surgical biopsy to be looked at under a microscope and for other lab tests.

If the tumor is in the abdomen (belly), the surgeon might do the biopsy with a laparoscope. This is a long, thin tube with a tiny video camera on the end. It is put into the abdomen through a small incision to allow the surgeon to see inside. The surgeon then makes a second small incision to reach inside the abdomen with long, thin instruments and remove pieces of tumor.

Surgery as treatment

After neuroblastoma is diagnosed, surgery is often used to try to remove as much of the tumor as possible. In some cases, surgery can remove the entire tumor and no additional treatments are needed.

During the operation, the surgeon looks carefully for signs of cancer spread to other organs. Nearby lymph nodes (small collections of immune system cells to which cancers often spread first) are removed and looked at under a microscope for cancer cells.

If possible, the surgeon will remove the entire tumor. This is less likely if the tumor is near vital structures or wrapped around large blood vessels. Even if some of the tumor is left behind, that doesn't always mean the tumor will come back.  Whether chemotherapy and other treatments will be needed after surgery depends on the child's risk group.

If the tumor is very large, chemotherapy may be used before surgery to shrink the tumor and make it easier to remove.

Possible risks and side effects of surgery

The risks from surgery depend on the location and extent of the operation and the child’s health beforehand. Serious complications, although rare, can include problems with anesthesia, excess bleeding, infections, and damage to blood vessels, kidneys, other organs, or nerves. Complications are more likely if the tumor is large and growing into blood vessels or nerves. Most children will have some pain for a while after the operation, but this can usually be helped with medicines if needed.

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.

Brodeur GM, Hogarty MD, Bagatell R, Mosse YP, Maris JM. Neuroblastoma. In: Pizzo PA, Poplack DG, eds. Principles and Practice of Pediatric Oncology. 7th ed. Philadelphia Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2016:772–792.

National Cancer Institute. Physician Data Query (PDQ). Neuroblastoma Treatment. 2017. Accessed at on October 12, 2017.

Pinto NR, Applebaum MA, Volchenboum SL, et al. Advances in risk classification and treatment strategies for neuroblastoma. J Clin Oncol. 2015: 30;3008-3017.

Speleman F, Park JR, Henderson TO.  Neuroblastoma: a tough nut to crack. Am Soc Clin Oncol Educ Book. 2016; 35:e548-557.  Accessed at on October 15, 2017.

Last Revised: March 19, 2018

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