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What is Retinoblastoma?
Retinoblastoma is the commonest eye cancer in infancy and childhood, affecting one in seventeen thousand live births. The retina is the living photographic film in the back of the eye. Retinoblastoma means tumours in the retina.
It occurs in infants and children up to five years old and, if diagnosed early, 95% of children with retinoblastoma survive. Retinoblastoma can appear in one or both eyes.

What causes Retinoblastoma?
The cause is unknown. What is known is that the child's genetic material (DNA) plays a major part. If both eyes are affected there is a 50% chance that the disease will be passed on to the child's offspring. In these cases genetic counselling is important. If only one eye is affected there is no significant risk of the disease being passed on to the next generation unless others in the family are affected.

What should I look for?
Retinoblastoma can show up in several ways. As the young infant can't communicate, the parents need to watch for anything unusual about the child's eyes.
Flashlight photos may reveal a "cat's eye reflex". A normal retina reflects a red colour in a photo taken using a flash (cameras without red-eye reduction). If the child has the tumours they will reflect a white light instead. Look at flash photos carefully to see if the red reflex in each eye is the same. A squint (the child's eyes do not line up properly) or poor sight can be the first sign of retinoblastoma. This may happen if the tumours grow across the reading centre of the eye.
If you notice anything unusual about your infant's eyes, it is wise to have your family doctor or an eye sight specialist dilate the pupils with drops and examine the back of the eyes as soon as possible.

How is Retinoblastoma treated?
Retinoblastoma must be treated as quickly as possible. Early diagnosis will save life and sight. After tests, the eye specialist will usually recommend surgery, radiotherapy or other treatment for tumours.
In advanced cases one or both eyes may have to be removed to the stop the tumours from spreading. However, when diagnosed, treatment may mean there is no significant loss of vision.

What if I think there's something wrong with my infant's eyes?
Contact your family doctor and have the back of your child's eyes examined. If the doctor cannot clearly see the retina ask for a referral to an eye doctor. Trust your own judgment and persist until you are satisfied. Studies show that parents are usually right when they suspect a problem with their infant's eyes.
For further help and information contact the Eye Hospital or Children's Hospital in your State or the Retinoblastoma Support group c/-Save Sight Institute:

349 Crown Street, Surry Hills NSW 2010
Telephone (02) 692 4285, Facsimile (02) 360 4801

North East Valley Division General Practice, Victoria, Australia, Disclaimer 
Level 1, Pathology Building, Repatriation Campus, A&RMC, Heidelberg West VIC 3081. .. map
Phone: 03 9496 4333, Fax: 03 9496 4349,  Email: nevdgp@nevdgp.org.au
Please note: NEVDGP does not provide an on-line consultation