Retinoblastoma – Symptoms, causes, and treatments

A type of eye cancer, retinoblastoma usually affects children and is rare among adults. It might occur in one or both eyes. This cancer begins in the retina, a part situated in the back of the eye that senses light. Fortunately, retinoblastoma can be cured if it is diagnosed in the early stages. Some of the common signs and symptoms of this condition are as follows:

  • Redness in the eyes
  • Swelling of the eyes
  • Eyes that focus or move in different directions
  • Pupils that appear white and not red while taking a flash photograph

One should notify the pediatrician immediately if they notice these signs. If they suspect something to be wrong, they might refer to an eye specialist for an in-depth diagnosis. Eye exams and imaging tests (computerized tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, and ultrasound) are usually used to detect retinoblastoma.

Retinoblastoma is caused due to the genetic mutation of nerve cells in the retina. It further leads to the growth and multiplication of the mutated cells, accumulating to form a tumor while the healthy cells die. Medical investigators are still unclear about what triggers these genetic mutations. However, certain studies conclude that children might inherit a certain type of genes from their parents that are more likely to mutate. For instance, if one parent carried this gene, their child has a 50% chance of inheriting it. A genetic mutation amplifies the possibility of developing retinoblastoma; however, not every child might be affected by it. An inherited form of retinoblastoma is more likely to develop at a very early age. Moreover, it tends to affect both the eyes, as opposed to one.

  • Treating retinoblastoma
    Multiple treatments are used to cure retinoblastoma. What approach the doctor takes depends on the size and location of the tumor, the overall health of the child, and whether cancer has spread to the other parts of the eye or to the organs around it. The following are some common treatments that are used to treat retinoblastoma:
  • Chemotherapy
    A form of drug treatment, chemotherapy kills the cancer cells, helping shrink the tumor. These are taken either in the pill form or are administered intravenously. Once the tumor shrivels, doctors can implement cryotherapy, laser therapy, or radiation therapy to kill the residual cancer cells. Chemotherapy is also used in cases where the retinoblastoma has spread to the other areas of the body.
  • Radiation therapy
    In this type of treatment, high-energy beams are used, including X-rays and protons to destroy cancer cells. There are two types of radiation therapies, that is, internal and external. The former method only exposes the tumor to the radiation by placing the device near the affected area. Such treatment is recommended when the cancer is just confined to the eye. On the other hand, if the retinoblastoma has metastasized, external radiation will be used, where the whole body will be exposed to radiation.
  • Laser therapy
    To starve the cancer cells, the laser is used to destroy blood cells that deliver nutrients and oxygen to the tumor. Lack of essential fuel for survival will eventually cause the cancer cells to die.
  • Cryotherapy
    Extreme cold is used to kill the cancer cells in cryotherapy. Basically, it utilizes cold substances like liquid nitrogen to freeze the cancer cells. Once frozen, the cells are left to thaw. This process is repeated a few times so that the cancer cells are destroyed.
  • Surgery
    When all the methods prove to be ineffective, surgery has to be done to remove the affected eye. This will prevent the spread of cancer to the other parts of the body. Post-surgery, the removed eye will be replaced with an implant, but the child will be unable to see.
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