Comparative values of catecholamines and metabolites for the diagnosis of neuroblastoma

Eur J Pediatr. 2003 Jun;162(6):397-402. doi: 10.1007/s00431-003-1175-1. Epub 2003 Mar 27.


In order to diagnose neuroblastomas, we assayed the three adrenal hormones and five of their metabolites by high-performance liquid chromatography followed by electrochemical detection in urine samples of 395 children with tumours of unknown nature (including 29 neuroblastomas). The analytes (expressed as analyte/creatinine ratios) performances were determined by calculating the related sensitivity and specificity and receiver operating characteristics curves within the different age groups. Normetanephrine (NME), vanillylmandelic and homovanillic acids (VMA, HVA) were the best analytes. Calculated optimal thresholds (best specificity/sensitivity couples) of these analytes minimised the number of false-positive diagnosis.

Conclusion: combined determination of normetanephrine with vanillylmandelic acid (0-1 year) or homovanillic acid (1-5 years and 5-10 years) further enhanced the diagnostic power up to 100% sensitivity and specificity of the testing depending on the age group. Plotting individual levels (normetanephrine versus vanillylmandelic acid or homovanillic acid) allowed a rapid visual analysis that would have missed only one small low grade non-secreting tumour.

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Gland Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Catecholamines / analysis*
  • Catecholamines / metabolism
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Homovanillic Acid / analysis
  • Humans
  • Neuroblastoma / diagnosis*
  • Normetanephrine / analysis
  • ROC Curve
  • Retroperitoneal Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Vanilmandelic Acid / analysis


  • Catecholamines
  • Normetanephrine
  • Vanilmandelic Acid
  • Homovanillic Acid