One of the rarest cancer types, retinoblastoma, attacks the part of the eye called the retina and can leave serious consequences.
A mutation in a gene controlling cell division which causes causing cells to grow out of control and become cancerous is the reason of retinoblastoma.
There are cases where retinoblastoma has genetic predispositions. In cases where the mutation runs in the family, there is a 50% chance that an affected person’s children will also have the mutation.
Children under the age of 6 (mostly children aged 1- 2) are most affected by retinoblastoma.
Retinoblastoma can affect one or both eyes.
An ordinary photograph can reveal one of the symptoms. It shows a white glow in the eye if the photo is taken with a flash. Instead of the typical “red eye” from the flash, the pupil may appear white or distorted. Other symptoms can include:
- Crossed eyes
- Double vision
- Eyes that do not align
- Eye pain and redness
- Poor vision
- Differing iris colors in each eye
Bone pain and other symptoms may occur if the cancer has spread outside the retina.
If there is a suspicion that a patient suffers from retinoblastoma, the doctors perform a complete physical exam, including an eye exam. Other tests that may be done are:
- Bone marrow biopsy and cerebrospinal fluid examination in the case of more aggressive tumors
- CT scan or MRI of the head
- Eye exam with dilation of the pupil
- Ultrasound of the eye (head and eye echoencephalogram)
The treatment options that doctor offer are the common ones, depending on the size and location of the tumor, including:
- Small tumors may be treated by laser surgery or cryotherapy.
- Radiation is used for both local tumor and for larger tumors.
- Chemotherapy may be needed if the tumor has spread beyond the eye.
In more unfortunate cases, the whole eye must be removed. This procedure is called enucleation and is performed in cases where the treatments mentioned above fail. There are cases where enucleation is the first treatment.
The cancer is curable in most cases if it hasn’t spread beyond the retina. The cure is often an aggressive treatment and even removal of the eye in order to be successful.
In cases where the cancer has spread beyond the eye, the chances of curing the disease are much lower and depend on how the tumor has spread.
Retinoblastoma can also cause blindness in the affected eye(s) if the tumor spreads to the eye socket through the optic nerve. It may also spread to the brain, lungs, and bones.
If you notice any of the symptoms visit your doctor immediately, especially if you notice that your child’s eye looks abnormal or appears abnormal in photographs.
It is always good to check your family history of retinoblastoma. Genetic counseling can help with this and with explaining the risk of the disease.