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How To Tell If Your Child Is Suffering From Pediatric Retinoblastoma

By Amanda Duffy

More than 300 children in the U.S. suffer from Retinoblastoma, an eye cancer affecting one or both eyes of the children. 95 percent of these cases occur in children ages five years and below according to the National Cancer Institute which is why early diagnosis is important. Manifestations of retinoblastoma in children can differ depending on the type of retinoblastoma which is either hereditary or non-hereditary.

Hereditary Retinoblastoma

About 10%-15% of children suffer from hereditary retinoblastoma which is caused by a mutation of a gene called RB1 in both parents. The RB1 mutation occurs in one of the cells of the retina which leads to retinoblastoma tumor. Children suffering from hereditary retinoblastoma usually have both sides of the eyes affected.

Non-hereditary Retinoblastoma

Also called sporadic or familial retinoblastoma, this type affects one eye. Cases of this type of eye cancer affect more children compared to hereditary retinoblastoma. and unlike the latter, symptoms of non-hereditary retinoblastoma are seen at a later stage of a child’s growth.

As parents or guardians, it is important to equip yourself with knowledge on retinoblastoma in children which can cause vision problems and permanent complications when not diagnosed and treated early.Below are symptoms which tell if your child is suffering from retinoblastoma:

●      Leukocoria

This is a condition wherein the pupil of the eye appears white or pink in color when exposed to bright lights. Parents may also notice a white glare in the eye of their child when exposed to camera flash. Leukocoria can also be caused by other primary cases like intraocular infection, cataract and retina malformation.

●      Swollen pupil

Because of the growing tumor in the retina, it can cause the pupil to enlarge and swell leading to poor vision and blindness when the tumor is fully developed.

●      Lazy Eye

The lazy eye is a loss of vision that affects both children and adults. This condition cannot be treated with correctable eyeglasses or lenses and is common to children below six years old. The lazy eye could also cause blurred eyesight.

●      Sore Eye

Besides the usual sore eyes that happen when there is infection, children suffering from retinoblastoma may experience inflammation of the eye for no particular reason.

●      Strabismus

Strabismus is a misalignment of the eyes. Both eyes could be farther apart each other or could not follow the same direction wherever the child focuses on a specific thing or person. Parents can ask the child to play a game of staring contest or hold a stick and ask them to focus on the movement of the stick to see how their eyes respond. An indicator of strabismus is if their eyes move in and out, up and down or in a crossed direction.


Diagnosis and Treatment

There are a couple of eye exams and laboratory tests needed to diagnose eye cancer and necessary steps for treatment. Early detection can spare financial and emotional crisis arising from retinoblastoma, but before deciding on performing these tests, make sure you have background knowledge on such tests and you trust the doctor or organization.


Here are some of the tools used in diagnosing retinoblastoma:

Biopsy - This means sampling of a tissue of the tumor for further study. This will help doctors recommend a better procedure for treatment.

Blood Sampling - Blood samples of the child will be taken for examination to determine dysfunctional or missing genes that may have caused the eye disease.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) - The MRI detects almost any kind of cancer including the eye, it utilizes electromagnetic waves that captures images of the spinal column and brain to know the development of the eye tumor and whether or not it has spread to other parts of the body. The doctor may administer medicine to sedate the child when performing this method to prevent the child from moving, which generates inaccurate images.

Spinal Tap - If the MRI results state that there is abnormality in spine or brain activity linked to the eye, then the spinal tap test is performed which involves a needle inserted at the child’s back to determine the status of cancer cells. The child is also given anesthesia before the spinal tap is performed.

Bone Marrow Aspiration - A tiny amount of the bone marrow is taken through a needle on your child’s hip to see if the cancer cells have spread to the bones.


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