What is retinoblastoma?

Retinoblastoma is a tumor of the eye that most often develops in young children under age 5. The tumor develops from the cells of the retina, which grow in size and number.

What causes retinoblastoma?

This tumor may be caused by a gene that is inherited. Children with the retinoblastoma gene tend to develop the tumor at an earlier age, and often in both eyes.

What are the symptoms of retinoblastoma?

If you shine a light in your child’s eye (such as with flash photography), you may notice that the pupil looks white instead of black. Other signs and symptoms include:

  • Redness of an eye
  • Swelling of an eye
  • Eyes that seem to be looking in different directions

If you see anything unusual about your child’s eyes, call your child’s doctor. If you know your family has a history of retinoblastoma, be sure to share this information with the doctor.

How is retinoblastoma treated?

Retinoblastoma is a serious disease. The sooner it is treated, the better the chance of saving your child’s life and eyesight. Depending on the stage of your child’s tumor, treatment options may include:

  • Chemotherapy to kill tumor cells in the eye as well as any cancer cells that spread to other parts of the body.
  • Radiation therapy, which may be given outside the body from a machine, or a radioactive substance in a small disk implanted in or near the tumor.
  • Laser therapy is sometimes used to destroy the blood vessels that feed the tumor.
  • Cryotherapy to freeze the cancer cells or thermotherapy to destroy them using intensive heat.
  • Surgery (enucleation) may be necessary when other treatments have not been successful and to prevent the cancer from spreading. A surgeon removes the affected eyeball and replaces it with an artificial eye that is attached to your child’s eye muscles. Your child will not be able to see out of this eye, but can move the eyeball like a natural eye. Most children adapt quite well to the artificial eye, which looks very much like the natural eye.