Pediatric Retinoblastoma | Miami Cancer Institute | Baptist Health South Florida
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 Pediatric Retinoblastoma

Retinoblastoma is a rare cancer of the retina, located at the back of the eye.

The retina receives light and converts it into a signal that goes to the brain, which recognizes it as an image. Retinoblastoma is usually diagnosed before a child reaches the age of 3. About 250 to 300 children in the United States are diagnosed each year. Nearly all children with the disease can be cured if diagnosed early enough.

What causes retinoblastoma?

Retinoblastoma occurs due to a mutation on a suppressor gene. Some 40 percent of cases are inherited. Genetic counseling is available to identify the specific risks of passing the gene or disease along to your children. However, the remaining 60 percent of retinoblastoma cases diagnosed each year have no hereditary component. They occur by chance. Most children with inherited retinoblastoma have tumors involving both eyes, while non-hereditary cases usually affect just one eye.

What are the symptoms of retinoblastoma?

The following are the most common symptoms of retinoblastoma. However, each child may experience symptoms differently.

  • Leukocoria – sometimes called cat’s eye. When a light is shined into the pupil, or a flash from a camera is used, the center of the eye appears to glow white
  • Strabismus – wandering or lazy eye
  • Pain, redness or swelling around the eye or eyes
  • Vision changes or poor vision

There are a wide range of treatment options for children with retinoblastoma, and the tests involved in diagnosing the disease help doctors better analyze your child’s condition ― and help determine the best treatment. Your child’s doctor generally will complete a thorough medical history and may order a number of tests. Because there is no single way to treat cancer, your child’s testing and care plan may be very different from another child’s, even if they have the same type of cancer.

The most common tests for retinoblastoma are:

  • Complete eye exam and medical history
  • Funduscopic examination – with your child under anesthesia, the pupils are dilated so the entire retina can be viewed and examined
  • Ultrasound of the eye
  • CT
  • MRI
  • Lumbar puncture
  • Blood tests
  • Genetic and DNA testing

The diagnosis of retinoblastoma also involves staging and classifying the disease, which determines treatment options and prognosis. Staging is the process of determining whether cancer has spread and, if so, how far. Left untreated, retinoblastoma can spread into the eye socket, optic nerve and brain, and to the bones and the bone marrow. There are various methods of staging, and you should ask your child’s doctor for more information.​

At Miami Cancer Institute, the comprehensive treatment of your child involves numerous specialists. You may see several pediatric physicians, oncologists, surgeons and radiation experts, as well as nurses, dietitians, therapists and social workers. We understand that this can be a confusing and stressful time for every family member, and we are here to help.

One of the most exciting advances in the fight against retinoblastoma is proton therapy. When the Proton Therapy Center opens at Miami Cancer Institute soon, it will be the only center of its kind in the region and one of only 14 in the United States. An advanced form of radiation treatment, proton therapy spares healthy tissue and eliminates many of the side effects of conventional radiation treatment (also known as photon or external beam radiation). While traditional X-rays pass through healthy tissue and organs on their way in and out of the body, protons travel through the body and release most of their energy inside a tumor. Using proton therapy reduces the risk of damage to bones and soft tissues, reduces side effects and decreases the odds of other tumors later in life, which makes it particularly good for treating childhood cancers.

Other treatments may include (alone or in combination):

  • Enucleation, or removal of the eye or eyes involved
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy​
  • Laser therapy or photocoagulation
  • Thermal therapy
  • Cryotherapy, or using a freezing process to destroy the tumor

As with any cancer, prognosis and long-term survival can vary greatly from individual to individual. Close follow-up care is essential. The healthcare team at Miami Cancer Institute will work closely with you and your family to develop the best treatment plan for your child.