Retinoblastoma in Children

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Explaining Retinoblastoma

Retinoblastoma is a cancer which grows in the retina in children. The retina is that part of the eye which is able to sense light, thus sending images back to the brain. Retinoblastoma can affect children up to the age of 5, and can even affect in the fetuses that aren’t fully developed inside their mothers’ wombs.

Retinoblastoma is first observed when the pupil in children’s eye appears whitish in bright light, while others may notice this only in photographs. Since the pupil is translucent, any tumour which grows behind it becomes observable.

Most children with Retinoblastoma are born with it, but it isn’t diagnosed immediately at birth.

The diagnosis is done generally when the child is older – around a year old. Retinoblastoma can sometimes be a genetic condition, and children get it from their parents or grandparents. They most likely develop it in both their eyes, and this Retinoblastoma is called Hereditary Retinoblastoma.

60% cases of Retinoblastoma, are, however, non-hereditary, meaning none of the affected person’s family has any history of the disease. Also, Retinoblastoma usually affects only one eye. It is called Unilateral Retinoblastoma.

Retinoblastoma symptoms include:

  • A cloudy pupil, which may appear white in bright light. This phenomenon is called leukocoria
  • Irises of different colours
  • Poor vision 
  • “Wandering” eye
  • Pain in the eye
  • Pupils larger than normal size

If a doctor diagnoses a child with Retinoblastoma, he is then taken to a paediatric oncologist to diagnose the presence of cancer in any other part of the body. Spinal tap, bone marrow biopsy and blood tests are part of this procedure. A group of specialists, which includes a radiation therapist, paediatric oncologist and a paediatric ophthalmologist, perform tests on the child to determine the extent of the cancer and the best procedure possible to cure them of it.

Advancement in medical science has made it possible for numerous treatments for Retinoblastoma, which include – Chemotherapy, External beam radiation, Intra-arterial Chemotherapy, Radioactive Plaques, Transpupillary Thermotherapy and Brachytheraphy. Doctors may use them individually or a combination of these to kill the cancer cells.

After their treatment, a few children might display symptoms similar to flu, while others may feel weak, dizzy or even feverish, with those undergoing radiation therapy feeling more tired than the others. Their skin might become slightly reddish or dry wherever it was treated, and in such cases painkillers are not uncommon.

However, after every treatment is over with, parents can be assured that their children can resume their old lives without any hiccups. Recovery periods vary from child to child, and once the doctor gives the green light, there is nothing stopping your child from leading a normal and healthy life.

The statistics for children recovering from Retinoblastoma are excellent, with over 80% of them retaining their old vision.

However, parents must ensure frequent checkups with the doctor, especially for those children with Hereditary Retinoblastoma because such children are at risk of developing secondary cancers.

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