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Eye Health Center

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Retinoblastoma and Your Child's Eyes

What Are the Stages of Retinoblastoma?

Stages of retinoblastoma include:

  • Intraocular retinoblastoma. The earliest stage of retinoblastoma, found in one or both eyes. It has not yet spread to tissue outside the eye.
  • Extraocular retinoblastoma. This type of cancer has either spread outside of the eye or to other parts of the body.
  • Recurrent retinoblastoma. The cancer has come back or spread in the eye or to other parts of the body after being treated.

How Is Retinoblastoma Treated?

Because it is usually found before it spreads outside of the sclera (white of the eye), retinoblastoma is highly curable. There are also many types of treatment that can save sight in the eye affected by retinoblastoma. Treatments are selected based on the stage of cancer at the time of diagnosis. Options include:

  • Photocoagulation. A laser is used to kill blood vessels that feed the tumor.
  • Cryotherapy. Extremely low temperatures are used to kill cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is a treatment given intravenously (injected into the vein), orally, or by being injected into the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord, called intrathecal chemotherapy. These powerful doses of cancer-killing drugs help kill or slow the growth of multiplying cancerous cells.
  • Radiation therapy. Radiation may be given externally or internally. External-beam radiation therapy uses X-rays to kill cancer cells. Internal, or local radiation therapy, involves placing small amounts of radioactive material inside of or near the tumor to kill cancer cells.
  • Enucleation. Surgery may be used to remove the eye.

What Does the Future Hold for People With Retinoblastoma?

Over 90% of children will survive more than five years after being diagnosed with retinoblastoma. The degree of vision retained depends on the extent of the disease, as well as the treatment chosen.

Hereditary forms of retinoblastoma are more likely to reoccur years after treatment; therefore, close follow-up after treatment is important for these patients.

Is Retinoblastoma Preventable?

Because heredity and age play such large roles in retinoblastoma, the best prevention is through early detection. All babies should have a general eye exam at birth and then again during the first year of life (these are usually included during the "well-child" visits scheduled at 2, 4, 6, 9, and 12 months of age). Your child should also have regular exams scheduled for 15, 18, and 24 months of age and every year after that. At these regularly scheduled visits, a doctor can detect any serious congenital problems or the appearance of retinal tumors. Newborns with a family history of retinoblastoma should have a more thorough eye exam at birth, again at several weeks of age and then once every few months as directed by your child's doctor.

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