It's World Retinoblastoma Awareness Week so we thought we'd take this opportunity to raise awareness about the condition and give you some educational resources in bite-sized amounts. So, what is Retinoblastoma, what causes it and what should you do if you think your child has it?
What is Retinoblastoma?
Retinoblastoma is an eye cancer that most commonly affects young children. The cancer begins in the retina (the nerve tissue at the back of the eye) which is responsible for sensing light as it comes through the front of the eye. The retina sends messages through the optic nerve to the brain to be interpreted as images. If you're more of a visual learner, check out this great video explainer by The American Academy of Ophthalmology.
What Causes Retinoblastoma?
Like any form of cancer, Retinoblastoma is caused by mutations in the retina's nerve cells. When these cells continue to grow and multiply, healthy cells die, causing a mass of cells (a tumour).
If the cancer is not caught in its early stages, these cells begin to invade other parts of the eye and eventually, the brain, spine and body. In most cases it's not clear what caused the original mutation however if there is a history of this condition in your family, it's important to get regular check ups with an ophthalmologist.
What are the signs of Retinoblastoma?
The key signal that your child may have Retinoblastoma is a white glow in the pupil at the centre of the eye. This glow is particularly visible when light, such as a camera flash, is shone in the eye. Other signs include the eyes appearing to look in different directions, poor vision, redness and swelling. It looks a little like this...
What should I do if I think my child has Retinoblastoma?
If you notice changes in your child's eyes and you're worried they might have retinoblastoma, the first step is to take them to their doctor or ophthalmologist. Retinoblastoma is quite rare, so your doctor may test for more common eye conditions first however if you have a family history of the condition, you should bring this to their attention.
From there, your eye doctor will develop a treatment plan which will include regular check-ups to ensure the condition does not re-emerge. They may also do genetic testing to determine if the Retinoblastoma was caused by an inherited gene mutation.