Retinoblastoma - Eye Cancer in Kids

There’s a story that’s been going around on social media about retinoblastoma, a rare but serious eye cancer that affects young children (I reposted it here). I realize that most people have probably never even heard of retinoblastoma and given how serious it is I thought it was worth writing about. It can be treated and, like any cancer, the sooner it’s caught the better the outcome.

So first, what is retinoblastoma? It is a cancer of the retina itself caused by a genetic mutation that can happen all on its own or be inherited. The reason it happens in young kids and not older people is the cells that lead to retinoblastoma are only found in children. They are called retinoblasts and their job is to divide and fill in the retina as the child grows (our eyes aren’t fully developed when we’re born). If they start growing and dividing uncontrollably we end up with a retinoblastoma.

So how do you detect it? The best way is to have regular eye exams. Remember that kids can start getting eye exams as young as 6 months old! You can also detect retinoblastoma yourself as a parent  by watching out for a few key things. If your child’s pupil appears white in photographs,  your child has developed an eye turn (also called a strabismus or lazy eye) or the eye is red and irritated or doesn’t seem to see as well I would strongly advise getting your child seen by your optometrist or family doctor as soon as possible. It is very important to note that most white pupils, eye turns and red, irritated eyes are not cancer. There are a variety of potential causes of these signs, some serious, others less serious and it is the job of your optometrist to  figure it out.

If you see this in a picture of your child you want it's important to have it checked immediately.

If you see this in a picture of your child you want it's important to have it checked immediately.

So what do you do if you do find that your child has retinoblastoma? How can it be treated?Your retinal oncologist (fancy name for an ophthalmologist or eye surgeon that specializes in eye cancer)  will set up a treatment plan depending on the size, type and location of the tumour. The number one priority in all cases of eye cancer is to save the person’s life. Retinoblastoma is fast growing and there is a possibility of it spreading to other parts of the body or into the brain. Saving the eye or the vision is less important than saving the child’s life. Radiation, chemotherapy, cryotherapy and a number of other  common cancer treatments are typically used to start in an effort to reduce the size of the tumour or eliminate it. In some cases it is necessary to remove the eye. Even if they eye itself can be saved it often is not able to see after treatment is completed. Retinoblastoma is never something we want to see but if caught early much can be done to help.

So now you have a better understanding of retinoblastoma. If you have any questions always feel free to contact us on Twitter, Facebook, Google + or via our website or phone us at (403) 474-6744.

For more information follow the links below!

Canadian Cancer Society

Ask a Doctor of Optometry - Retinoblastoma