The eyes are the most treasured sense organs in humans; these organs provide us a gateway to the world outside of us. Unfortunately in India, every year 1500-2000 children are diagnosed with a cancerous tumour of the eyes– this tumour is called Retinoblastoma. Retinoblastomas are the most common cancer of the eye in children and is generally seen in children below the age of 5 years.
The peculiar feature about this tumour is that the child does not experience any pain or discomfort, the child continues to play and lead a normal life. However, a unique “white glow” or “white eye reflex” can be observed in the affected eyes when a flash photograph of the child is taken.
Some of the other signs of the tumour include:
1. Squinting or deviation of the eyes
2. White halo/mark in the lower part of the eye
3. In advanced cases, there may be protrusion of the eyeball
Ignoring these tumours can lead to permanent blindness and even death. But, early diagnosis can ensure effective treatment is given to the child and save his/her life.
What should a teacher or a parent do if they spot the “white glow” in a child’s eyes?
A qualified ophthalmologist (specialist doctor of the eyes) must evaluate the child.
The doctor will use special drops to dilate the eyes and view the internal structure of the eye through an ophthalmoscope
The doctor will then suggest the next course of action
How is retinoblastoma treated?
Early stage retinoblastomas are treated by focal therapy such as laser, cryotherapy, thermotherapy.
Chemotherapy may include intravenous or intra-arterial chemotherapy
In advanced cases, the affected eye may have to be removed to save the child’s life and this will be followed by chemotherapy and local radiation therapy
Following removal of the eyes, a customized prosthetic eye will be placed in the socket, which will allow the child to look completely normal aesthetically.
About the Department of Paediatric & Ophthalmic Oncology at Sri Shankara Cancer Hospital and Research Centre:
The Department of Paediatric Oncology at SSCHRC is a dedicated 60 bedded unit led by an experienced and dynamic paediatric oncologist. Exclusively trained nursing staff, paediatric psychologist, social worker and dietitians support the unit. The Ophthalmic Oncology Surgeon works in close collaboration with a large team of cancer care specialists including paediatric medical oncologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists, maxillofacial prosthetic rehabilitation specialists and support team. The department ensures each child has access to the latest, evidence based treatment and as part of the Sri Shankara Cancer Foundation’s initiative to reduce childhood cancer mortality, the foundation has so far provided high quality, subsidized or free treatment to over 150 children.