Retinoblastoma is a malignant tumor in the retina, the light-detecting cells at the back of the eye. Thanks to advances in diagnosis and treatment, virtually all children with retinoblastoma now survive well into adulthood.
Children with retinoblastoma are treated at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center through our Retinoblastoma Program. Continue reading to learn more about retinoblastoma or visit the Retinoblastoma Program homepage to learn about our expertise and treatment options for this condition.
These tumors are typically diagnosed in children less than 5 years of age, with the majority of cases diagnosed before age 2. Nearly 75 percent of the time, only one eye is affected. When retinoblastoma is inherited from a parent (through a mutated gene), there’s a chance it may develop later in the other eye. While rare, the disease can spread to other parts of the body, especially to the bone marrow.
Symptoms tend to develop between ages 1 and 2 and include:
In addition to a complete physical examination, doctors diagnose retinoblastoma with:
In some cases, genetic testing is done to look for the retinoblastoma gene, confirm the diagnosis, or determine if the genetic mutation is inherited. Biopsies are not usually done. After all tests are completed, doctors will be able to outline the best treatment options.
Because of the risk that the eye can be damaged during cancer treatment, our retinoblastoma treatment team will utilize intra-arterial chemotherapy when possible. Intra-arterial chemotherapy is a newer treatment for more advanced retinoblastoma in which the medicine is injected directly into the main blood vessel of the eye (ophthalmic artery). This treatment was designed to minimize the amount of contact the chemotherapy has with the rest of your child’s body, and reduce side effects. It can deliver a much higher dose of chemo straight to the eye, and may kill more cancer cells in fewer treatments.
During this procedure, your child is put to sleep by an anesthesiologist. Then the surgeon inserts a thin tube through a blood vessel in your child’s groin, and feeds it up to the ophthalmic artery. Then the medication is injected through the tube up to the eye.
The average number of treatment sessions is about three for each eye, delivered every four weeks.
Other treatment options include:
Our doctors are using intra-arterial chemotherapy for retinoblastoma, a treatment designed to minimize the amount of chemotherapy and reduce side effects. It can deliver a much higher dose of chemo straight to the eye, and may kill more cancer cells in fewer treatments.