Retinoblastoma is a tumor that begins in the retina, the thin layer of tissue on the back of the eye. The cancer almost always begins with a change in the retinoblastoma (RB1) gene. Normally, this gene helps to keep cells from growing out of control, but a combination of factors can cause the gene to change and stop working correctly.
What are the different types of Pediatric Retinoblastoma?
This is where a child only has retinoblastoma in one eye.
Hereditary retinoblastoma means a child has a genetic predisposition to developing retinoblastoma and usually has retinoblastoma in both eyes.
How is Pediatric Retinoblastoma diagnosed?
Parents typically take their kids to eye doctors after they notice the above symptoms. The eye doctor can confirm it’s a tumor. After diagnosis, our main goal is to preserve vision and save the child’s life.
What causes Pediatric Retinoblastoma?
This cancer happens because of a mutation in the retinoblastoma (RB1) gene. Approximately 40% of the time, the child’s genes develop this mutation very early during pregnancy or the child inherits the mutated gene from a parent. The remaining 60% of the time, the mutations spontaneously happen in the eye after birth.
How is Pediatric Retinoblastoma treated?
Our team typically uses a combination of surgery, laser therapy, cryotherapy and chemotherapy to treat these cancers. Their treatment will depend on the type and severity of cancer your child has.
We offer advanced genetic testing that looks at a possible mutation in the retinoblastoma (RB1) gene. If we find out your child has an inherited mutation in this gene, this can make a huge difference in creating their treatment plan, preserving vision and curing the retinoblastoma.
If left untreated, retinoblastoma tumors can grow, resulting in blindness and ultimately, death.
Treating Sporadic Retinoblastoma
Typically, we treat sporadic retinoblastoma with surgery or a combination of surgery and chemotherapy. Many times, our surgeons have to remove the entire eye to keep the cancer from spreading.
Hearing that your child has to have surgery to remove their eye is very difficult, but doing the surgery as soon as possible gives kids the best chance of beating their cancer. The ophthalmologist removes the tumor and works with an ocular prosthetic specialist, who creates an artificial eye that replaces the eye that was removed. Our prosthetic specialist is a gifted artist. It's very difficult to see the difference between a child’s natural eye and the new artificial eye.
After your child’s surgery, a specialist will closely examine the tumor under a microscope to see if the tumor has moved into the eye’s tissue. If the tumor hasn’t moved deeper into the eye’s structure, it’s considered to be low-risk and no further treatment is needed. However, if the tumor has spread further into the eye, kids usually need chemotherapy treatments to make sure the cancer doesn’t spread to the brain or other parts of the body.
Treating Congenital Retinoblastoma
Children who have congenital retinoblastoma will need more intensive treatments. Our goal in treating these kids is to take out the tumor while preserving functional vision. We typically use a combination of the following therapies:
- Cryotherapy: While your child is under general anesthesia, we place a small metal probe in the eye (cooled to a low temperature), which eliminates the retinoblastoma cells by freezing them.
- Laser therapy: While your child is under general anesthesia, we use a highly focused beam of light that can heat and destroy the retinoblastoma tumor.
- Chemotherapy: Depending on your child’s diagnosis, they might need multiple rounds of chemotherapy. These are drugs that can destroy cancer cells.