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These small tumors grow in the retina, the tissue in the back of the eye that senses light and sends images to the brain. Thanks to great strides in treatment, many children treated for retinoblastoma may even retain 20/20 vision and grow into healthy, happy adults.
Retinoblastoma is a rare type of cancer found in the eye. In retinoblastoma, one or more tumors form in the retina. The retina is a layer of light-sensitive tissue that lines the back of the eye. It converts visual images into nerve impulses in the brain that allow us to see. If not treated, the tumors will continue growing. The cancer may grow along the optic nerve and reach the brain or it may travel to other parts of the body.
Cancer occurs when cells in the body (in this case retina cells) divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. Tumors can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.
During early stages of fetal development, fast-growing, immature cells called retinoblasts form. Later, these cells become retinal cells. In retinoblastoma, some of these cells quickly grow out of control. Some cases of the tumor are inherited; others are not. Retinoblastoma usually forms only in one eye, but both eyes may have tumors.
Symptoms are usually noticed by the parent or caregiver and may include, but are not limited to:
Genetic counseling and close monitoring and screening for people at risk for retinoblastoma can help prevent the disease or detect it early if it occurs.
Early diagnosis and treatment improve the chance of successful treatment. Prevention and early detection techniques include:
The doctor will ask about symptoms and family medical history and perform a physical exam. Many retinoblastomas are found during routine physical exams. If a tumor is suspected, the child will usually be referred to a specialist for a more complete eye exam. In children with a family history of the disease, eye exams often begin within a day or two of birth. Additional eye exams are scheduled at regular intervals thereafter.
Once retinoblastoma is found, staging tests are performed to find out if the cancer has spread, and, if so, to what extent. Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer. The cancer may be localized to the eyes or it may have spread to tissues around the eye or to other parts of the body.
Tests may include, but are not limited to:
Your child will likely be referred to a specialist for treatment. Without treatment, the cancer cells will continue to grow. Treatment aims to cure the cancer and preserve sight. Options vary, depending on whether the disease is limited to the eye or has spread, and how large and where in the eye the tumor is located. Therapies may be used alone or in combination.
If your child has been diagnosed, you probably have lots of questions. We can help. If you would like to schedule an appointment, refer a patient or speak to our staff, please call our offices at 682-885-4007.