Characteristics of benign neuroblastic tumors: Is surgery always necessary?

Richard S. Whitlock, Steven C. Mehl, Sara K. Larson, Jennifer H. Foster, John Hicks, Jed G. Nuchtern, Andrew C. Sher, Sanjeev A. Vasudevan, Bindi Naik-Mathuria

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Purpose: Ganglioneuroma (GN) and ganglioneuroblastoma-intermixed (GNB-I) represent benign variants of neuroblastic tumors in children; however, differentiating from more aggressive histological variants of GNB including the nodular subtype (GNB-N) prior to resection can be challenging, even with biopsy. Currently, no standard treatment guidelines exist. The purpose of this study was to identify pre-operative characteristics of benign neuroblastic tumors and evaluate outcomes for patients who underwent surgical resection or observation. Methods: Retrospective chart review of children treated at a single institution between 2009 and 2019 for non-metastatic tumor with a tissue diagnosis of GN, GNB-N or GNB-I. Demographics, imaging, labs, operative details and outcomes were recorded and analyzed. Results: Of 53 patients, 45% were male. The most common tumor location was abdomen (49%), followed by thorax (34%). Forty-five percent had at least one image defined risk factor. Biopsy was performed in 32% (17/53) and upfront surgery in 68% (36/53). Three patients (3/53, 5.6%) with biopsy demonstrating GN tumors were observed due to high surgical risk. Pathology of resected specimens demonstrated GN in 52% (26/50) and GNB-I or GNB-N in 48% (24/50). The majority of GNB tumors (75% (18/24) were GNB-I and 25% (6/24) were GNB-N. Therefore, 88% of the resected tumors were benign spectrum neuroblastic tumors (GN & GNB-I). Seven (7/50, 14%) patients experienced perioperative complication (temporary paralysis, Horner's syndrome, chylothorax, vocal cord paralysis). Recurrence was noted in 1 patient with GN (1/50, 2%) and 3 with GNB-N (3/50, 6%). There were no tumor-related deaths. Patients with GN were older than those with GNB (8.8 years (IQR 6–11.25) vs 5.6 years for GN (IQR 3–7); p = 0.01). GNB tumors were also more likely to have calcifications on imaging (63% vs. 38%, p = .01) and more commonly had MIBG avidity (88% vs 66%, p = .04). There were no significant differences in tumor size or symptoms at presentation. Conclusions: In children with neuroblastic tumors, older age, CT without tumor calcifications, lack of MIBG avidity, and/or normal urine catecholamines may indicate benign GN. Close observation could be considered for asymptomatic patients meeting these criteria with biopsy-proven GN, with resection reserved for progressive growth or symptom development. However, larger, multicenter studies are needed for further validation. Level of evidence: IV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1538-1543
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Pediatric Surgery
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Complications
  • Ganglioneuroblastoma
  • Ganglioneuroma
  • Observation
  • Pediatric
  • Resection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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