A blastoma is a type of cancer caused by malignancies in precursor cells, which are commonly referred to as blasts. Each kind of blastoma is given its own name depending on where it’s located in the body. For example, a nephroblastoma is found in the kidney, and a retinoblastoma is found in the eye.

Blastomas are more common in children.

There are several types of blastoma. These include:

  • hepatoblastoma, found in the liver
  • medulloblastoma, found in the central nervous system
  • nephroblastoma, found in the kidney (also referred to as Wilms' tumor)
  • neuroblastoma, found in the immature nerve cells outside of the brain, often originating in the adrenal glands
  • retinoblastoma, found in the retina
  • pancreatoblastoma, found in the pancreas
  • pleuropulmonary blastoma, found in the lung or pleural cavity

The symptoms of blastoma vary depending on what part of the body they’re in as well as the size of the tumor and it’s stage.

Hepatoblastoma

This tumor in the liver may be noticed as a painful lump in the abdomen that grows. Other symptoms may include:

  • swelling of the abdomen
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea
  • jaundice
  • early puberty in boys
  • fever
  • itchy skin
  • enlarged veins on the belly
  • vomiting and weight loss that can’t be explained

Medulloblastoma

This blastoma in the nervous system can cause behavioral changes such as lethargy and disinterest in social activity. It can also cause symptoms such as:

  • headaches
  • difficulty controlling movement
  • double vision
  • changes in personality
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • weakness due to the nerves being compressed by the tumor

Rare symptoms may occur if the tumor has spread. These include back pain, problems with bladder and bowel control, and difficulty walking.

Nephroblastoma

Nephroblastoma, or Wilms’ tumor, is one of the most common forms of childhood cancer. It has a wide range of symptoms. The cancer can be hard to detect because the tumor can grow for a while without causing symptoms.

Symptoms include:

  • abdominal swelling or a lump felt in the abdomen
  • fever
  • blood in the urine
  • change in the urine’s color
  • loss of appetite
  • high blood pressure
  • abdominal pain
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • constipation
  • large or distended veins that are visible across the abdomen

Neuroblastoma

Symptoms of neuroblastoma depend on the location of the tumor. They can include:

  • fever
  • back pain
  • bone pain
  • unexplained weight loss or poor appetite
  • swelling of the abdomen
  • limping or difficulty walking
  • wheezing
  • chest pain
  • masses of tissue under the skin
  • protruding eyeballs
  • dark circles that look like bruises around the eyes

Pancreatoblastoma

Symptoms of pancreatoblastoma may not appear until the cancer has grown larger, as it’s often slow-growing. Symptoms include a large abdominal mass, abdominal swelling or pain, and jaundice.

Pleuropulmonary blastoma

Symptoms of pleuropulmonary blastoma (PPB) may be similar to symptoms of pneumonia. These may include:

  • cough
  • fever
  • chest pain
  • general ill feeling

PPB may also present with pneumothorax, which is when there is air in the chest cavity.

Blastomas are thought to be caused by a genetic error during fetal development. They’re also referred to as embryonal malignancies, as the blastomas form when cells fail to develop into their final types before or after birth. The tissue then remains embryonic.

Blastomas are the most common type of cancer that occurs during early childhood. They usually present before the age of 5 years, and many are present at birth.

Some forms of blastoma are associated with particular risk factors. For example, hepatoblastoma is more common in children who have specific genetic syndromes and inherited conditions.

Blastoma treatments are similar to those for other types of cancer and include surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy.

Specific treatments and their success depend on the type of blastoma and individual factors such as:

  • the time of diagnosis
  • age
  • the stage of cancer
  • if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body
  • how well the blastoma responds to therapy

It’s unusual for an adult to be diagnosed with a blastoma. Infants of less than one year may have better prognoses than older children. Some research also suggests that children with blastomas have better chances of survival than adults. Because of the rarity of adult blastomas, little is known about their features.

Blastomas are not well understood. We don’t yet know why they develop, and because of this, medical scientists don’t have a way to prevent them from occurring. Some risk factors, such as particular inherited syndromes, have been identified for specific blastomas. But the links are not well understood.

However, many types of blastoma are considered curable. This is because blastomas typically respond well to radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Overall survival rates range from an estimated 59 percent for hepatoblastoma to as high as 94 percent for retinoblastoma.

The outlook for children with a blastoma varies considerably, but the outlook is generally better for younger children whose cancer hasn't spread. Your doctors will be able to give you more specific information about your child’s cancer and outlook.