Retinoblastoma

Below we explain what Retinoblastoma is, what the symptoms are and how it is diagnosed.

Retinoblastoma is a rare type of eye cancer that can affect young children. It is a cancer of the retina. It can affect one or both eyes.

If it is diagnosed early, nine out of ten children with this condition can be cured. Early diagnosis is key. If it affects both eyes, it is usually diagnosed before the child is aged one. If it affects just one eye it can be diagnosed when the child is five years old plus.

Signs and symptoms

  • An unusual white reflection in the pupil – this is more noticeable in photos or dark or artificially light rooms.
  • A squint may be present.
  • A change in the colour of the iris in the eye.
  • A red or inflamed eye – the child will not usually complain of pain though.
  • Poor vision – The child may not be able to focus on objects or faces and they may also have altered eye movements as the child is not able to control the eye movements. This is a more common symptom if the condition affects both eyes.

The image below shows the Trafford Centre as it may be seen by someone with Retinoblastoma. The building is blurry and out of focus.

The main entrance of the Trafford Centre as it may be seen by someone with retinoblastoma. The building is blurry and out of focus

Assessment

A medical professional such as the GP or optician can check for this condition with an ophthalmoscope which would show the reflection of the retina as white instead of red in the first instance. If retinoblastoma is suspected, an urgent referral to an eye hospital will be made and the child will be seen within two weeks.

An ophthalmologist (eye specialist) will examine the child’s eye with an ophthalmoscope and will also use dilating drops to get a clear view of the retina. An ultrasound of the eye can also be used as a diagnostic tool in some instances.

If an ophthalmologist (eye specialist) thinks that the cause of the vision loss is due to retinoblastoma, an urgent referral will be made to either The Royal London Hospital or Birmingham Children’s Hospital, and your child should be seen within a week of the referral.

Treatment

Treatment will depend on the stage of a tumour and if the tumour is contained within the eye or if the tumour spreads from the eye to surrounding tissues or another part of the body.

For small tumours contained in the eye, treatment may take the form of either laser treatment or freezing the tumour.

For larger tumours, the following treatments may be recommended:

Brachytherapy- if the tumour is not too large, still small radioactive plates may be used, or radiotherapy for larger tumours.

Chemotherapy may also be used to shrink the tumour

For exceptionally large tumours the removal of the eye is necessary.

Further Reading

The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust

Cancer Research UK

Explore our other pages on eye conditions

Retinitis pigmentosa | Cataracts | Charles Bonnet Syndrome | Diabetic Retinopathy | Nystagmus | Macular degeneration | Hemianopia |

Chronic Glaucoma

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