A relatively rare form of eye cancer, retinoblastoma develops in the retina, a thin sensory membrane that lines the inner surface of the back of the eyeball. The malignancy, which mainly affects infants and young children, can occur in one or both eyes. 

How Does Retinoblastoma Develop? 

Retinoblastoma begins when nerve cells in the retina undergo abnormal changes that cause the cells to continue growing and multiplying beyond the point where they would normally die. The accumulating cells then form a tumor. 

If left untreated, retinoblastoma can spread beyond the retina and invade nearby tissues. Cancerous cells can also break away from the tumor, enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system and travel to distant areas of the body. 

Genetic mutations that increase the risk of some types of cancer, including retinoblastoma, can be passed from parent to child. In the case of hereditary retinoblastoma, only one parent needs to have a single copy of a mutated gene to pass the heightened risk onto a child. 

Signs to Watch For 

Usually, the first sign of retinoblastoma is a change in the appearance of the eyes, such as: 

  • Swelling and redness 
  • Crossed or misaligned eyes that seem to be looking in different directions
  • White, cloudy or dilated pupils (leukocoria), which may be especially apparent in a flash photograph 

Retinoblastoma can also cause vision changes. 

The Diagnostic Process 

To investigate the cause of retinoblastoma symptoms, a physician will typically conduct a specialized eye examination, which may be performed under general anesthesia to minimize movement, especially in a very young patient. During the exam, the physician will use special instruments and lights to gain a detailed view of the retina. If retinoblastoma is suspected, the physician may order an imaging test, such as an ultrasound or MRI scan, to further evaluate the mass. 

Treatment Options for Retinoblastoma 

Retinoblastoma treatment can vary based on the size, location and spread of the tumor and the child’s age and overall health. Some patients undergo chemotherapy to help shrink a tumor before receiving further therapies, such as cryotherapy and laser therapy. This approach can increase the effectiveness of subsequent treatments and may eliminate the need for surgery. 

The multidisciplinary team of pediatric hematology/oncology specialists at Tampa General Hospital provides comprehensive and individualized care for childhood cancer patients. We offer a broad range of leading-edge treatments for retinoblastoma in a comfortable environment that is specifically designed to meet the unique needs of our young patients.