Definition

What is retinoblastoma?

Retinoblastoma is a type of eye cancer that starts in the retina, the sensitive lining on the inside of your eye. Retinoblastoma most popularly affects young children, but can rarely occur in adults. Your retina is made up of nerve tissue that senses light as it comes through the front of your eye. The retina sends signals through your optic nerve to your brain, where these signals are interpreted as images.

A rare form of eye cancer, retinoblastoma is the most common form of cancer affecting the eye in children. Retinoblastoma may occur in one or both eyes.

How common is retinoblastoma?

Retinoblastoma is a rare disease. Only about 200 to 300 children are diagnosed with retinoblastoma each year in the United States. It is more common in infants and very young children than in older children. The average age of children when they are diagnosed is 2. It rarely occurs in children older than 6. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of retinoblastoma?

As retinoblastoma frequently influences infants and small children, signs and symptoms are quite rare. Some common signs you may notice include:

  • A white color in the center circle of the eye (pupil) when light is shone in the eye, such as when taking a flash photograph
  • Eyes that appear to be looking in different directions
  • Eye redness
  • Eye swelling

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consulting with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes retinoblastoma?

It is proved that retinoblastoma happens when nerve cells in the retina develop genetic mutations. These mutations cause the cells to continue growing and multiplying without stopping when healthy cells would die. This accumulating mass of cells forms a tumor.

Retinoblastoma cells can invade further into the eye and some nearby structures. Retinoblastoma can also spread (metastasize) to other areas of the body, including the brain and spine.

In the majority of cases, it is not clear what causes the genetic mutations that lead to retinoblastoma. However, it’s possible for children to inherit a genetic mutation from their parents.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for retinoblastoma?

Gene mutations that increase the risk of retinoblastoma and other cancers can be passed from parents to children. Hereditary retinoblastoma is passed from parents to children in an autosomal dominant pattern, which means only one parent needs a single copy of the mutated gene to pass the increased risk of retinoblastoma on to the children. If one parent carries a mutated gene, each child has a 50 percent chance of inheriting that gene.

Although a genetic mutation increases a child’s risk of retinoblastoma, it doesn’t mean that cancer is inevitable.

Children with the inherited form of retinoblastoma tend to develop the disease at an earlier age. Hereditary retinoblastoma also tends to occur in both eyes, as opposed to just one eye.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is retinoblastoma diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects that you may experience this condition, a physical examination about your eye will be performed and some tests will be also recommended by your doctor. Your doctor also asks you about your medical history. Tests will be ordered by your doctor may include:

Imaging tests

Scans and other imaging tests can help your child’s doctor determine whether retinoblastoma has grown to affect other structures around the eye. Imaging tests may include ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), among others.

Your child’s doctor may refer you to other specialists, such as a doctor who specializes in treating cancer (oncologist), a genetic counselor or a surgeon.

How is retinoblastoma treated?

Depending on the size and location of the tumor, the best treatments for your child’s retinoblastoma will be recommended. When possible, your child’s doctor will work to preserve your child’s vision.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is a drug treatment that uses chemicals to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be taken in pill form, or it can be given through a blood vessel. Chemotherapy drugs travel throughout the body to kill cancer cells.

Chemotherapy may also be used to treat retinoblastoma that has spread to tissues outside the eyeball or to other areas of the body.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells. Two types of radiation therapy used in treating retinoblastoma include:

  • Internal radiation for retinoblastoma uses a small disk made of radioactive material. The disk is stitched in place and left for a few days while it slowly gives off radiation to the tumor.
  • External beam radiation. External beam radiation delivers high-powered beams to the tumor from a large machine outside of the body. As your child lies on a table, the machine moves around your child, delivering the radiation.

Laser therapy (laser photocoagulation)

During laser therapy, a laser is used to destroy blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients to the tumor. Without a source for fuel, cancer cells may die.

Cold treatments (cryotherapy)

Cryotherapy uses extreme cold to kill cancer cells. During cryotherapy, a very cold substance, such as liquid nitrogen, is placed in or near the cancer cells. Once the cells freeze, the cold substance is removed and the cells thaw. This process of freezing and thawing, repeated a few times in each cryotherapy session, causes the cancerous cells to die.

Heat treatments (thermotherapy)

Thermotherapy uses extreme heat to kill cancer cells. During thermotherapy, heat is directed at the cancer cells using ultrasound, microwaves or lasers.

Surgery

When the tumor is too large to be treated by other methods, surgery may be used to treat retinoblastoma.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage retinoblastoma?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with retinoblastoma:

  • Small children can’t understand what’s happening to them as they undergo cancer treatment. To help your child cope, try to maintain a normal routine as much as possible.
  • Try to arrange appointments so that your child can have a set nap time each day. Have routine mealtimes. Allow time for play when your child feels up to it.
  • Ask your health care team about other ways to comfort your child through his or her treatment.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: August 4, 2017 | Last Modified: August 4, 2017

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