Retinoblastoma is the most common pediatric eye tumor that occurs inside the eye. This tumor usually develops by eighteen months of age, and over 90% of patients are diagnosed prior to the age of three. The tumor occurs at a rate of 1 in 15,000 to 1 in 30,000 live births. The gene responsible for this tumor has been identified and studied in great detail. Years ago, retinoblastoma was uniformly fatal, but now, with early intervention, we can preserve both life and vision.
The retinoblastoma tumor originates in the retina, the light sensitive area of the eye that enables us to see. The tumor will normally present as an abnormal red reflex (commonly known as a “red eye” in photographs) in which the pupil of one eye appears whiter, as seen in photo below. These abnormal red reflexes can also occur from other conditions such as strabismus (or crossed eyes), cataracts, or most commonly due to the angle at which the photo was taken. All pediatricians currently screen for retinoblastoma during your infant’s well baby visits. However, despite proper screening, the tumor can still go undetected. In 2002, during Dr. Dorfman’s presidency at the Florida Society of Ophthalmology, we began a public awareness campaign to promote early detection of this tumor. The campaign is aimed at teaching parents on how to recognize an abnormal red reflex. We want parents to recognize that both eyes should have an equal and symmetric red reflection in childhood photographs. An asymmetric reflection, especially a white reflex, can be a sign of retinoblastoma. Recognizing the abnormal appearance of a child’s red reflex in photographs obtained at home can lead to early diagnosis, and the ability to save you child’s life.
Part of our public awareness campaign, was the distribution of a poster demonstrating this intraocular tumor. Both the Florida Society of Ophthalmlogy and the Florida chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, have been able to distribute this poster on a statewide basis to pediatric offices and photo labs. We encourage you, after reading this article to educate your friends and family regarding this condition.
Fortunately, the overall survival rate is more than 95% and our goal is to continue to promote early detection of this life threatening disease. Most of the symptoms of a retinoblastoma, will first be detected by a parent. Please take the time to look at the red reflex in your child’s photograph, and if you are uncertain, please take your child to an ophthalmologist as soon as possible for a comprehensive examination. We also encourage you to emphasize the importance of this condition to your friends and family.
Early diagnosis and intervention is critical to the successful treatment of this disease.