Skip to main content

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. One of the more common childhood cancers that affect the eye is retinoblastoma. Retinoblastoma is a rare early childhood cancer that starts in the retina. The retina is the part of the eye that sends light and pictures to the brain.


Some symptoms to look out for are:

  • The pupil which should look black might look white. Instead of ‘red eye’ in a photo, the eye might have a white glow.
  • One or both eyes might appear larger than normal
  • The centre of the eye might seem cloudy or discoloured
  • The child might experience pain in the eye
  • There might be some redness in the whites of the eye
  • The child might be experiencing vision problems
  • The eyes might be crossed, squinted or look in different directions.

These could also be symptoms of other milder eye problems so always check with an eye doctor to be sure if you notice any of them.


Retinoblastoma is caused by a change or mutation in one particular gene in the DNA that controls cell division. Most times this happens at random and causes a tumour in one eye. If a child is born with the damaged gene in every cell of their body, there is a likelihood of having more than one tumour and in both eyes. These children also have a  higher chance of getting other kinds of cancer and can pass the condition to their children.


There is a greater chance of saving the child’s eyesight if the cancer is discovered early. A combination of treatments is applied most times. Some of these are

  • Chemotherapy
  • Cryotherapy
  • Radiation
  • Laser therapy
  • Thermotherapy
  • Surgery

Since small children find it hard to stay still and these are delicate procedures, very young patients might have to be sedated or put under for examinations and treatment.

Things to Note

  • Retinoblastoma can be treated if found early and chances are higher when it hasn’t spread beyond the eye.
  • It is important to follow up after treatment to know quickly if cancer comes back.
  • Children who have damaged gene in every cell can have other types of cancer later in life, so regular comprehensive health checks are encouraged for these children.
  • Genetic testing can help detect if the gene damage is the kind that can be passed down. Other family members should also be tested for this as well.

Parents should watch out for any signs of eye problems and see a doctor immediately. Contact us for more information on eye challenges that children face.