Retinoblastoma is a rare type of eye cancer that affects children younger than five and rarely occure in adults. More precisely, it is an eye cancer that begins in the retina (the sensitive lining on the inside of the eye). Being a rare form of eye cancer, Retinoblastoma may occur in one or both eyes.
Signs of retinoblastoma include:
- A white color in the center circle of the eye (pupil) when light is shone in the eye, such as when taking a flash photograph
- Eyes that appear to be looking in different directions;
- Eye redness; and
- Eye swelling
Retinoblastoma occurs when the nerve cells in the retina develop genetic mutations that cause the cells to continue growing and multiplying when healthy cells would die. This accumulating mass of cells forms a tumor. Retinoblastoma can spread to other areas of the body, including the brain and spine. In the majority of cases, it is not clear what causes the genetic mutations. However, it is possible for children to inherit a genetic mutation from their parents. Hereditary retinoblastoma is passed from parents to children in an autosomal dominant pattern, which means only one parent needs a single copy of the mutated gene to pass the increased risk of retinoblastoma on to the children. If one parent carries a mutated gene, each child has a 50 percent chance of inheriting that gene as well. Although a genetic mutation increases a child's risk of retinoblastoma, it does not mean that cancer is inevitable. Hereditary retinoblastoma also tends to occur in both eyes, as opposed to just one eye.
Children treated for retinoblastoma have a risk of cancer returning in and around the treated eye. Additionally, children with the inherited form of retinoblastoma have an increased risk of developing other types of cancers in any part of the body in the years after treatment. For this reason, children with inherited retinoblastoma may have regular exams to screen for other cancers.
In most cases, doctors are not sure what causes retinoblastoma, so there is no proven way to prevent the disease.
Even though in families with the inherited retinoblastoma prevention may not be possible. genetic testing enables families to know which children have an increased risk of retinoblastoma, so eye exams can begin at an early age. That way, retinoblastoma may be diagnosed very early and a chance for a cure and preservation of vision is still possible.