Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Screening for neuroblastoma in the north of England.

British Medical Journal 1992; 305 doi: (Published 21 November 1992) Cite this as: British Medical Journal 1992;305:1260
  1. L. Parker,
  2. A. W. Craft,
  3. G. Dale,
  4. S. Bell,
  5. M. Cole,
  6. A. C. McGill,
  7. J. A. Seviour,
  8. J. Smith
  1. Department of Child Health, Medical School, Newcastle upon Tyne.


    OBJECTIVE--To determine the feasibility of establishing a system of screening for neuroblastoma. DESIGN--Prospective study of mass screening in four clearly defined geographical areas. SETTING--Four health districts of the Northern region of England. SUBJECTS--20,829 babies aged 6 months, 92% of target population. INTERVENTIONS--Collection of urine on filter paper for analysis of content of homovanillic and vanillylmandelic acid in relation to urinary creatinine concentrations. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES--Derivation of reference range. Identification of babies with homovanillic or vanillylmandelic acid > 3 SD above the mean (positive cases). Investigation of positive cases for evidence of neuroblastoma. RESULTS--The upper limit of normal (3 SD above the mean) for vanillylmandelic acid was 15 mumol/mmol creatinine and for homovanillic acid 24 mumol/mmol creatinine. Of the 20,829 babies screened, 2537 (12.2%) required a second sample to be taken because the first sample was inadequate. Of these, 527 (2.5%) provided a liquid urine specimen and 10 (0.04%) had positive results for neuroblastoma. Two of them had neuroblastoma (true positives) and eight did not (false positives). A further three children from the cohort were subsequently found to have neuroblastoma; they had raised homovanillic acid or vanillylmandelic acid values, or both, but screened negative at 6 months. CONCLUSIONS--Screening for neuroblastoma is possible in the health care system of the United Kingdom. Evaluation of the efficacy of screening in reducing the mortality from neuroblastoma requires a controlled trial.