What is retinoblastoma?
The retina is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eyeball. Retinoblastoma is a cancer of the retina that happens mostly to young children.
Retinoblastoma can run in families
It usually happens before age 2
About 1 in 4 children with retinoblastoma have it in both eyes
A child with retinoblastoma may have a white pupil, crossed eyes, or vision problems
Treatment includes surgery, chemotherapy, and sometimes radiation therapy
What causes retinoblastoma?
Retinoblastoma is caused by a problem with the genes that control eye development. A baby can inherit this problem from a parent or the problem can happen on its own.
What are the symptoms of retinoblastoma?
A pupil (the black spot in the center of the eye) that's white instead of black
Eyes that look in different directions (strabismus Strabismus Strabismus is having one eye that looks in a different direction than the other eye. The eye may look outward (called walleye) or inward (called cross-eyes). Strabismus can start in the first... read more , also called cross-eyes)
If the retinoblastoma is large, vision problems
If the cancer has spread, children may also throw up, lose their appetite, or have a headache.
How can doctors tell if my child has retinoblastoma?
If a doctor suspects a retinoblastoma, they'll:
Do a special eye exam while your child is asleep under general anesthesia
Ultrasound, CT scan Computed Tomography A CT scan uses a large machine shaped like a large donut to take x-rays from many angles. A computer then takes the x-rays and creates many detailed pictures of the inside of your body. Each... read more , or MRI Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) MRI is a test that uses a machine with a powerful magnet to make pictures of the inside of your body. A computer creates a series of detailed pictures. Each picture looks like a slice taken... read more to see the retina
If your child has retinoblastoma, doctors will do more tests to see if the cancer has spread, including:
Taking a sample of bone marrow (bone marrow biopsy Bone Marrow Examination Red blood cells, most white blood cells, and platelets are produced in the bone marrow, the soft fatty tissue inside bone cavities. Sometimes a sample of bone marrow must be examined to determine... read more ) to look for cancer
Doctors will also do genetic testing to see if your child's retinoblastoma is the type that can be passed down in a family. If it is, doctors will also test members of the child's family. Brothers and sisters at risk for retinoblastoma should have eye exams every 4 months from birth to age 4. Parents' eyes should also be checked, because the same gene can cause noncancerous tumors in an adult retina.
How do doctors treat retinoblastoma?
Treatment depends on where the retinoblastoma is and whether it has spread. It's important to remove the whole tumor, but if possible, doctors use treatments that spare the vision.
If retinoblastoma is only in one eye, doctors usually:
Remove the eye
If the retinoblastoma is in both eyes, doctors may remove the eye with the largest tumor and try to treat the other eye without removing it so your child can still see. Those treatments may use:
Chemotherapy Chemotherapy Chemotherapy is a drug that destroys cancer cells. Chemotherapy works by shutting down cell growth. But since all cells in the body grow, chemotherapy drugs also destroy some normal cells and... read more drugs injected directly through the main artery that provides blood to the eye
Pieces of radioactive material placed near the tumor (brachytherapy)
After treatment, specialists should examine your child regularly to make sure the cancer hasn't come back.