"Retinoblastoma: The Lifesaving Role of an Eye Exam for a Child"

This motivational account underscores the significance of routine eye screenings for the timely identification of retinoblastoma.

What is Retinoblastoma?

In the United Kingdom, up to 50 children receive a diagnosis of retinoblastoma every year, with two-thirds of cases identified before the age of 2. Retinoblastoma is a rare type of eye cancer that mostly affects children and starts its development in the retina, the part of the eye that detects light, and may occur in one or both eyes. Unfortunately, retinoblastoma often has few (and subtle) or no symptoms in its early stages, making early diagnosis crucial to successful treatment. Don’t let retinoblastoma creep up on you – get regular eye exams to ensure early detection and treatment. A recent case in the UK highlights how a regular eye exam can help detect retinoblastoma and save a child’s life.

Olivia’s Story: How an Eye Exam Saved Her Life

In February 2022, Dr. Laura Leafe, an optometrist in the UK, was sent a picture by her sister-in-law, Ewelina Skwarlo. The image featured her two-year-old niece, Olivia. Ms. Skwarlo had observed a peculiar white reflection in Olivia’s eye and shared the image with Dr. Leafe, who quickly identified it as indicative of retinoblastoma.

Olivia’s Story

Olivia's life was preserved thanks to her mother's vigilance and a standard eye check-up.

Following the eye examination, Dr. Leafe validated her initial diagnosis and referred Olivia to Bains Clinic in Cannock, Staffordshire, for additional tests.

Medical experts at the hospital identified Olivia as having retinoblastoma and promptly arranged for her transfer to Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospital in the West Midlands for critical care, which included eye surgery.

What Are the Symptoms of Retinoblastoma?

Retinoblastoma is a rare form of cancer targeting the retina, the light-detecting layer situated at the eye’s rear, posing severe risks if not addressed promptly.

In its initial phases, this ocular malignancy presents minimal symptoms, making early discovery difficult.

Nonetheless, several indicators exist that guardians should be vigilant about:

  • A white glow or reflection in the eye, especially in flash photography
  • A noticeable difference in the appearance of one or both eyes
  • An eye that appears to be looking in a different direction
  • Swelling or redness of the eye
  • Eye pain or discomfort
  • Change in vision

If you notice any of these symptoms in your child’s eyes, immediately take them to an eye doctor for an urgent eye exam.

The Importance of Regular Eye Exams

Routine eye check-ups play a crucial role in identifying and averting ocular conditions, retinoblastoma included. In such examinations, an optometrist inspects the retina to spot any irregularities that could suggest eye cancer. As an experienced optometrist, Laura Leafe identified the symptoms of retinoblastoma and swiftly arranged for her niece to receive prompt medical attention. Had Olivia’s parents not observed the odd look in her eye or reached out to their optometrist, the diagnosis might have been delayed, potentially missing the critical window for effective treatment.

How Is Retinoblastoma Treated?

The approach to treating retinoblastoma varies based on the cancer's progression and intensity. In certain scenarios, it may be imperative to surgically excise the impacted eye (enucleation) to halt the spread of the cancer to critical organs, including the brain.

The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT) notes that only approximately 50% of retinoblastoma instances necessitate removal of the affected eye as a part of the therapeutic process. Nonetheless, detecting the condition early frequently allows for less aggressive treatments, such as:

  • Cryotherapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Laser therapy (photocoagulation or thermotherapy).

For Olivia, her treatment involved four sessions of intra-arterial chemotherapy and five sessions of dual-agent intravitreal chemotherapy. Since then, her tumor has diminished in size and is currently managed, though she continues to need monthly evaluations, cryotherapy, and laser procedures.

Don’t Let Retinoblastoma Creep Up On Your Child

As exemplified by Olivia’s case, a parent’s awareness and regular eye exams are crucial for detecting and preventing retinoblastoma.

Optometrists have the expertise to identify and diagnose eye cancer, enabling them to direct children to specialists for more in-depth assessment and treatment as required.

Ensuring your child undergoes an eye examination at a clinic immediately upon spotting any unusual signs in their eyes is critically important.

The key to effective treatment and better health outcomes lies in early diagnosis.