An eye cancer in children, which rarely affects adults, is medically termed as 'Retinoblastoma'. It starts developing in the retina and is an uncommon form of eye cancer. Retina plays a major function in the eyes, mainly to sense light and sends signals and pictures to your brain. Retinoblastoma can develop in one or both the eyes. The most obvious and common symptom of this eye cancer is that the normally black looking pupil will turn shining white in colour.
If you observe any signs of retinoblastoma in your child, it is important to consult with a doctor and get immediate medical attention. In addition, if there is a family history of retinoblastoma and you are aware about it, then it is best to discuss it with your doctor if you want to have a baby. Onlymyhealth editorial team spoke to Dr. Sima Das, Head- Ocular Oncology, Dr Shroff Charity Eye Hospital, New Delhi, to know about the symptoms, causes and treatment of retinoblastoma or eye cancer in children.
Symptoms of eye cancer in children
The most common and noticeable sign of retinoblastoma is when one or both eyes look different. A white pupil starts shining light into the eye, also called leukocoria. There are many signs of retinoblastoma, but the severity can vary from patient to patient. The symptoms are not common as it mostly affects small children and infants. According to Dr. Sima, here are the main symptoms of this form of eye cancer in children:
- Eye or eyes looking larger than usual
- Eye pain
- Blurry vision
- Swelling in the eye or eyes
- White colour in the middle of the pupil when light appears in front of the eye
- Redness in the eye
- Dilated pupil
Causes of eye cancer in children
Retinoblastoma can develop if nerve cells present in the retina inherit genetic mutations. Genetic mutations in RB1 can lead to retinoblastoma. An inherited form of retinoblastoma is generally developed at birth as their can be multiple tumors in one or both the eyes. One being the inherited RB1 mutation and othe other being an acquired RB1 mutation. A non-inherited gene of the disease mostly develops a single tumor in only one eye and occurs because of the acquired mutations in both copies of this gene. In most of the cases of retinoblastoma, it is not clear as to what causes the genetic mutation that results in this form of eye cancer. But, it is highly possible for an infant to inherit a genetic mutation of retinoblastoma from their parents.
To diagnose this form of eye cancer, the doctor checks the inside of the eye using a bright and strong light along with a magnifying glass. Once it is confirmed, the next part of diagnosis is to know about the size of the tumor and whether it has spread to other parts or not. Tests such as ultrasound, MRI and CT scan can help in indentifying the size and other factors related to the tumor.
The treatment method to treat retinoblastoma in a child is decided on the basis of size and location of the tumor. It is also depends on the spread of cancer to other areas, except the eye. The main aim of the treatment is to treat the cancer. Here are some treatment options for retinoblastoma:
Chemotherapy involves using strong drugs to reduce the size of tumor before trying any other treatment method. If the cancer has not yet spread to other parts, the powerful drugs can be induced directly in the eye or in the blood vessels responsible for the tumor.
2. Radiation therapy
In radiation therapy, powerful radiations are given in the eye to destroy the cancer cells. There are various kinds of radiation therapy used to cure retinoblastoma, including X-rays and protons.
3. Laser therapy
There is a different type of laser that targets and eliminates the blood vessels that are responsible for the development of tumor. Laser therapy is beneficial for treating small tumors present in the back of the eye.
When the tumor is too huge to be cured using drugs or radiation, surgery is considered as the last treatment option. In surgery, the eye is removed to treat retinoblastoma. In such cases, removing the eye can also help in preventing the spread of cancer to other parts of your body.