“Facebook saves life” said the headlines of a newspaper. They were talking about a lady who alerted her friend when she was browsing through her daughter’s photos and noticed something strange…
What is Retinoblastoma?
Retinoblastoma is an eye cancer which begins in one’s retina. The retina is the light sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. It is the most commonly occurring eye cancer seen in children, but occurs rarely in adults. Retinoblastoma may occur in one or both the eyes. It usually affects children under the age of 6.
Leukocoria/ Cat’s Eye Reflex: A white discoloration in the pupil (the opening in the centre of the coloured part of your eye). This is seen when light is shone in the eye, such as when taking a flash photograph.
Crossed Eyes / Squint.
Redness of Eyes
Differing colour in the iris (coloured part of your eye)
Normal nerve cells have a definite life span and die after their life span is over. In Retinoblastoma, nerve cells in the retina undergo genetic mutations which cause the nerve cells to continue growing and multiplying unnaturally. This increasing mass of cells forms a growth called as a tumour and may invade into the eye further. It may also spread to other areas of the body like your brain and spine.
What causes these genetic mutations is not exactly known. However, if a parent carries a mutated gene, their child has a 50% higher risk of inheriting that faulty gene. Kids who inherit retinoblastoma, develop this disease at an earlier age and tend to have it in both their eyes.
· Examination of the eye
· Ultrasound (Sonography of the Eye)
· CT Scan
· MRI Scan
Retinoblastoma is highly curable if treated early. The type of treatment depends on the location, size and spread of the tumour other than the child’s health. The below listed types of treatment are available. Either of these may be used before / after or in combination with the others.
1. Chemotherapy: Here, drugs are given which are chemicals that can travel throughout the body and kill cancer cells.
2. Radiotherapy: This utilises high energy beams like X Rays to kill cancer cells.
3. Laser Therapy: A Laser is used to destroy blood vessels which supply nutrition and oxygen to the tumour enhancing its growth.
4. Cryo Therapy: Extreme cold is used to repeatedly freeze and thaw the cancerous cells, which causes them to die.
5. Thermo Therapy: Extreme heat using Ultrasound / Microwaves / Lasers is directed at the cancer cells causing them to die.
6. Surgery: When all the above is unsuitable or fails, surgery is performed to remove the affected eye (enucleation). This helps prevent the spread of cancer to other parts of the body. Surgery also involves placing an eye implant and fitting an artificial eye.
Children can go blind in the eye that is affected. Children who have been treated are at a risk for developing other types of Cancer in any part of their body, even years after treatment.
Also, they are at a risk of the cancer returning in or around the eye that has been treated.
Since it’s not exactly known, what causes Retinoblastoma, prevention is not always possible.
Every baby should have a general eye exam at birth and then again during his / her first year of life. Your child should also undergo regular eye checks at 15, 18, and 24 months of age and every year after that.
In families with inherited retinoblastoma, genetic testing helps identify those kids who have an increased risk.
Children who have been identified with an increased risk should undergo frequent eye examinations so that early diagnosis helps prevent total vision loss with timely intervention.
…So the next time you like a friend’s photo on Facebook, do give a closer look to their eyes!