Retinoblastoma is a serious ocular condition that occurs in children significantly more than adults.
This cancer of the retina negatively affects how much light reaches it. It’s the most common tumor-related disease that can affect a child’s eyes.
Retinoblastoma is caused by the incorrect mutation of a gene within the eye. This gene can be passed to the child in two different ways:
- Inherited: The gene is passed down from the parents, who might not have the disease but are still carriers.
- Sporadic: The gene mutates within the child by chance, and by no cause or fault of anyone. About 2 out of 3 children obtain retinoblastoma by chance.
Below, we’ll discuss how retinoblastoma forms, the dangers that are associated with the disease, and options for treatment.
What Causes Retinoblastoma?
The eyes’ development starts before birth, about 6 weeks after contraception.
When our eyes start to develop, we develop a certain number of cells, called retinoblasts. The purpose of these cells is to multiply during the development of the eye to fill what will be the retina with cells.
Retinoblastoma develops during the process of cell multiplication in the retina.
It’s catalyzed by the mutation of the RB1 gene. Normally, this gene regulates the growth of the retinoblasts within the retina. When mutated, the RB1 gene cannot regulate this process, causing the retinoblasts to grow uncontrollably—this is the primary cause of retinoblastoma.
Retinoblastoma Signs & Symptoms
The most common symptom associated with retinoblastoma is a white pupillary reflex. This is when the pupil, having been exposed to a bright light or flash, looks white instead of the normal red color of the blood cells’ reflection.
If you or a doctor notice a white or pink glare in the child’s eyes, this could be a telltale sign of retinoblastoma.
There are a variety of other symptoms that can be associated with retinoblastoma, such as:
- Lazy eye
- Vision trouble
- Eye pain
- Bleeding out of the front of the eye
- Bulging eye
- Pupil not reacting to light
How Is Retinoblastoma Treated?
Many different options are available to help treat the disease, all depending on the size of the tumor, the effectiveness of the specific case, the safety of the child, and more. These include:
- Laser therapy
- Radiation therapy
All treatments work toward getting rid of the cancer and preserving the child’s eyesight.
Just as all cancer treatments aren’t without side effects, treatments for retinoblastoma can leave the child feeling tired and weak, dizzy, and feverish.
However, these treatments have been proven to be effective in practice, with a 95% survival rate on children with one eye affected, and a 70-80% survival rate on children who have retinoblastoma in both eyes, assuming that the cancer has not spread outside the eye.
The most important thing to remember is that if your child is affected by retinoblastoma, you are not alone, and there are plenty of resources and support groups out there that can help you through this difficult time.
Hearing that your child has cancer of any kind is extremely hard, but knowing that there are so many great resources out there ready and willing to help you can make the journey easier.
Contact your eye doctor today if you suspect your child experiences any of these symptoms.