Retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer, is a condition that every parent should be aware of. This malignant tumour primarily affects infants and young children, posing significant challenges and requiring prompt attention for successful treatment. Understanding the signs, risks and available treatment options can make a substantial difference in early detection and improving outcomes for affected children.
What is retinoblastoma?
Retinoblastoma develops in the retina, the light-sensitive tissue located at the back of the eye. It primarily affects young children typically under the age of five and can occur in one or both eyes.
Symptoms of retinoblastoma may include:
- Leukocoria: A white or yellowish glow in the pupil when light is shined into the affected eye.
- Strabismus: Crossed or misaligned eyes.
- Poor vision or loss of vision in the affected eye(s).
- Eye redness, swelling, or pain.
What causes retinoblastoma?
While the exact cause of these mutations is still unknown, certain inherited gene mutations, such as the RB1 gene, significantly increase the risk of developing retinoblastoma. Approximately 40 per cent of retinoblastoma cases are inherited, meaning it is passed down from parent to child through a specific gene mutation, while the remaining 60 per cent occur spontaneously without a family history.
Early detection can reduce the risk of it
One of the most critical aspects of retinoblastoma is early detection. Parents and caregivers should be vigilant about any signs or symptoms that may indicate the presence of this condition. However, the most common symptom is a white reflection in the pupil, often referred to as “cat’s eye reflex” or “white eye.”
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If you notice any symptoms, it is crucial to consult a paediatric ophthalmologist immediately for a comprehensive eye examination. The ophthalmologist will perform a series of tests, including a dilated eye exam, imaging scans and possibly a biopsy, to confirm the diagnosis of retinoblastoma. Additional tests such as ultrasound or MRI may be conducted to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment for retinoblastoma
Once diagnosed, the treatment approach for retinoblastoma depends on the stage and extent of the cancer. The goal of treatment is to preserve vision and complete the removal of tumour.
1. Early-stage cancer: In cases where the tumour is confined to the retina and has not spread beyond the eye, several treatment options are available. These include laser therapy, cryotherapy (freezing the tumor), thermotherapy (heating the tumour), and brachytherapy (radioactive plaque placed on the tumour). In some instances, chemotherapy may be used to shrink the tumour before other treatments.
2. Advanced cancer: In more advanced cases where cancer has spread beyond the eye or has not responded to initial treatments, more aggressive measures may be required. These can include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and even surgical removal of the affected eye, known as enucleation. The decision regarding the best course of treatment depends on multiple factors and should be made in consultation with a team of healthcare professionals experienced in managing retinoblastoma.
Fortunately, the overall prognosis for retinoblastoma has improved significantly in recent years, thanks to advances in early detection and treatment options. With early diagnosis and appropriate intervention, the chances of successful treatment and preservation of vision are higher. Regular follow-up visits with the healthcare team are crucial to monitor the child’s progress and detect any potential recurrence or complications.
In the fight against retinoblastoma, knowledge, and vigilance are our greatest allies. By recognising the signs, seeking prompt medical attention and staying informed about available treatments, we can improve the chances of successful outcomes for affected children. Be aware, spread awareness regarding this eye cancer, and support families, in order to ensure no child faces this rare form of eye cancer alone.