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Childhood Cancer Awareness: Eye Cancer

Each year, September is observed as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, a time to honor children and families affected and to raise awareness about childhood cancers.

The types of cancers that develop in children are different from those that affect adults. Among the most common cancers in children is retinoblastoma, a cancerous tumor that develops in the retina of the eye. It accounts for about two percent of childhood cancers and typically occurs in children around the age of two, and is seldom found in children older than six. Retinoblastoma can also affect developing fetuses in the womb.

Although the majority of children who develop retinoblastoma are born with it, they are not often diagnosed at birth. On average, this type of childhood cancer is diagnosed between 12 and 18 months of age.

How is Retinoblastoma Diagnosed?
In most cases, retinoblastoma is found because a parent or health care provider notices an abnormality in the child’s eye. In a healthy eye, when light is shined in the eye, the pupil appears red because of the blood vessels at the back of the eye. In an eye with eye cancer, the pupil will often appear white or pink. In some cases, this may also be noticeable in a photograph when the flash is used.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Retinoblastoma?
In addition to a cloudy pupil that may appear white or yellow in bright light, other symptoms of eye cancer include:

  • poorly aligned eye, known as strabismus
  • reddish pupil
  • pain in the eye
  • pupil that is larger than normal 
  • different-colored irises
  • poor or decreased vision

What is the Treatment for Retinoblastoma?
When diagnosed, most cases of retinoblastoma are treated successfully and the child’s eyesight is preserved. To treat the cancer, a pediatric ophthalmologist, pediatric oncologist and radiation therapist will work together to provide care for the child. Available treatments for retinoblastoma includes:

  • chemotherapy
  • radiation
  • cryotherapy
  • thermotherapy
  • photocoagulation
  • enucleation

Periodic eye examinations will be necessary during treatment to monitor the effectiveness of treatment.

Learn more about childhood cancers, including retinoblastoma here.

If you suspect there may be a problem with your child’s eye health, do not wait to see your eye doctor. Give us a call today to schedule an appointment.

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