What do I need to know about Retinoblastoma?


Retinoblastoma – An Overview

Retinoblastoma is a form of eye cancer that affects the retina of the eye initially. This cancer is mostly seen in younger children but can occur in adults too. Retinoblastoma may develop in one eye or both and basically affects the vision as the retina is responsible for sending signals to the brain through the optical nerve to be interpreted as images. Retinoblastoma affects the retina’s ability to form an image by the light entering it and thus affects the vision gradually.

Causes of Retinoblastoma

A retinoblastoma develops when the nerve cells in the retina start mutating genetically and causes abnormal rate of growth in these cells. This uncontrolled growth of nerve cells in the retina develops swiftly into a tumor. Retinoblastoma is known to spread and affect the nearby optical structures as well as to other areas of the body, such as the brain and the spine. In most cases, the cause of genetic mutation in the nerve cells of the retina resulting in retinoblastoma is not known, however certain genetic factors are identified as being carriers of this disorder due to hereditary factor.

Signs and Symptoms of Retinoblastoma

As retinoblastoma is seen occurring mostly in small children and even infants, it is hard to find noticeable signs and symptoms. The rare signs and symptoms, when seen, may be:
  • White spot in the pupil
  • Non-aligned eyeball
  • Redness in eye
  • Swollen eye
It is advisable to consult a pediatrician immediately in case you notice any of these signs and symptoms in the baby. It is highly advisable to get immediate medical attention if you have a family history of retinoblastoma.

Retinoblastoma related risks

Children affected with retinoblastoma are at a risk of the cancer recurring in, or around, the treated eye. It is advisable to make regular follow-up appointments with the doctor after the treatment is completed. Also, children with a family history of retinoblastoma are at a higher risk of recurrence of the eye cancer as well as other types of cancers that affect the various parts of the body. The doctor usually schedules regular check-up sessions for several years following the retinoblastoma treatment.

Diagnosing Retinoblastoma

The doctor will perform certain diagnostic tests to determine the presence, as well as the spread of the retinoblastoma cancer. These are the commonly used diagnostic tests for retinoblastoma:
  • Eye Examination – This helps to determine the cause of the signs and symptoms seen in the child.
  • Imaging Tests – Imaging tests help the doctor to determine if the retinoblastoma has metastasized (spread) to other surrounding eye structures and affected them. These tests usually include computerized tomography (CT) scan, ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test.
  • Specialist Consultation – The pediatrician may advise you to consult an pediatric ophthalmologist or an eye specialist who is better trained and experienced in managing retinoblastoma cancer cases. 

Retinoblastoma Treatment

There is a variety of treatment methods used to treat retinoblastoma cases. The type of treatment method for every individual case of retinoblastoma depends on various factors, such as the size, location, metastasizing (spreading) if any as well as the child’s overall health and other similar factors. Treatment for retinoblastoma not only involves removing the cancer from the eye it also aims to retain maximum eyesight in the affected eye after the cancer treatment. These are the common retinoblastoma treatment methods:
  • Chemotherapy – This method of retinoblastoma treatment uses medicinal drugs aimed at destroying the cancer cells causing the tumor in the eye. This treatment is performed by, either administering the medication orally, or intravenously through a blood vessel. These drugs travel to every part of the body through the blood stream to fight the cancer cells. This therapy is mainly used in children to shrink the size of the tumor, before another treatment method can be used to remove the cancer cells and the tumor as well.
  • Radiation Therapy – This treatment method uses high-energy beams of radiation particles, such as x-rays, in order to destroy the cancer cells. This treatment method uses two different techniques – Internal Radiation where a radioactive device is inserted in the body near the tumor, or External Beam Radiation where an external device is used to target the cancer with radiation beams.
  • Laser Photo-Coagulation – This retinoblastoma treatment method uses high-energy laser beam to seal the blood supply to the cancer cells, by blocking the connecting blood vessel, which deprives the cancer cells of vital nutrients and oxygen. This eventually destroys the tumor and the cancer is removed.
  • Cryotherapy – This treatment method uses extreme cold temperatures to destroy the cancer cells. The doctor may use super-cooled liquefied nitrogen in, or near, the tumor cells. As the low temperature begins to freeze the cancer cells it is removed. This process is repeated a few times until the cancer cells die off eventually, of the swiftly changing temperature.
  • Thermotherapy – This treatment method uses intense, but concentrated, heat to destroy the cancer cells. The doctor may use lasers, ultrasound or microwaves to heat the cancer cells.
  • Surgery – In cases, when the cancer (tumor) of the retinoblastoma is too large to be treated successfully with the above-mentioned non-surgical methods the doctor will have to resort to surgical methods for its treatment. There are various types of retinoblastoma surgeries, such as ‘enucleation’ which is used to remove the affected eye in severe cases of retinoblastoma, Eye implant surgery is used to replace an affected eye or an artificial eye implant can be used to replace the removed eyeball for aesthetic purposes.
Retinoblastoma is actually a more common eye cancer that occurs mostly in children but can prove fatal to the eyesight when left untreated. Prompt and immediate medical attention is vital in treating the retinoblastoma cancer as well as in saving the child’s eyesight.
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