By Dr. Brian McDonough, Medical Editor
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Most people have never heard of it but retinoblastoma is a rare cancer that forms in the eyes of babies and young children.
Tumors usually develop before the age of three years. Each tumor is caused by a unique genetic change in a single retinal cell. In some cases the cancer can affect both eyes.
Retinoblastoma is rare. It affects 9,000 children each year worldwide. It affects boys and girls equally, and is not more common in any race or area of the world. The most common sign is a creamy-white glow in the affected eyes, like a cat’s eye at night. This is frequently seen in flash photos.
When the cancer becomes advanced, the white reflection can be seen with the naked eye, most often at dawn and dusk when ambient lighting is low. Surgical removal of the affected eyes is the most common and effective treatment. About 80% of children have at least one eye removed.
Children have an excellent chance of cure when retinoblastoma is fully contained in the eye at diagnosis.