Retinoblastoma: What You Need to Know

One of the most common forms of cancer that affects children below the age of 2 is Retinoblastoma. This is caused when the retinas of the eyes begin to grow or change beyond what the body can control and form tumors. Retinoblastoma can be treated like most forms of cancer if it is caught early before it progresses. There is also a strong likelihood that it is passed from genes and so it is important to request for a test from an optometrist if someone in your family has had this cancer before.

Types of Retinoblastoma

There are two types of retinoblastoma that can affect children, the type is determined by the following factors:

  • Non-hereditary retinoblastoma

    This cancer just happens without any premeditation. Non-hereditary retinoblastoma accounts for over 60% of cancers that affects children in North America. In most cases, the retinoblastoma affects only one eye. There is also little risk that children will be affected by the disease.

  • Hereditary retinoblastoma

    This type of retinoblastoma is passed on from parents to their children and accounts for 40% of cancers reported in children. In this case, someone in the family or a parent must have suffered from retinoblastoma. In some cases, it could be described as sporadic because there may be no history of retinoblastoma in the family. Kids who exhibit retinoblastoma are also at a higher risk of developing other forms of cancer like lung cancer, skin cancer, soft tissue sarcoma etc. There is also a strong chance that the retinoblastoma 1 gene would be transmitted to their future children. Despite medical research into the subject, there is still no definite way of predicting or reducing the risk of retinoblastoma occurring in children.

Early diagnosis

Retinoblastoma is best treated when it is identified early enough. This can be done through eye examination, blood testing and MRIs.

Signs and Symptoms of Retinoblastoma

There are many things that can indicate that a child may be suffering from retinoblastoma. Most of these signs and symptoms can be caught by an optometrist during an eye examination or as a follow up on complaints of the physical symptoms. Here are some common signs that could indicate that a child may be suffering from retinoblastoma:

  • White reflection or glare in the pupil when light is shone on the eyes
  • Crossed eyes
  • Soreness or swelling of the white areas of the eye
  • Blurry and unclear vision
  • Pains in the eye causing watering and squinting
  • Swollen eyes
  • Change in iris color
  • Increased in inner ocular pressure causing pain and blindness

Treatment of retinoblastoma

There are many ways to treat retinoblastoma and the preferred method depends on which stage the cancer is in before it was detected. The following are the most developed methods:

  • Cryosurgery

    This is the use of extreme cold to drop the temperature of the cells of the eyes and destroy cancerous cells. This treatment has shown to ne most successful with early stage detection of retinoblastoma.

  • Thermotherapy

    In this case, different forms of radiation such as microwave, ultrasound and infrared are used to target cancerous cells in the eyes and heat them until they are destroyed. This is also typically recommended during early onset retinoblastoma.

  • Chemotherapy

    There are many ways that the chemotherapy treatment could delivered to children. The treatment can be done systematically through the use of anti-cancer medication of the use of radiation to deliver a steady dosage to the affected area. There is a lot of post-chemo treatment required for up to 5 years where the child’s progress is carefully monitored to prevent relapse.

Remission and risk of recurrence

When every trace of retinoblastoma in a child’s eye is removed and cannot be seen in tests, then the cancer is said to be in remission. Remission can be temporary or permanent, however both forms are good news. While there is always a fear that the retinoblastoma could reoccur, optometrists always advise patients to understand all the options and possibilities so that they and their parents are well-prepared in the event of the cancer returning.

A good thing to note is that most of the treatment methods discussed for retinoblastomas are all successful with a large percentage of children. It is crucial to recognize the early stages of retinoblastoma so it can be treated effectively.

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