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Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service

Retinoblastoma fact sheet

Retinoblastoma

Retinoblastoma is a type of cancer that rapidly develops in the retina, the light-detecting tissue at the back of the eye.

Mostly affecting young children, retinoblastoma represents 6 per cent of all cancers in children under the age of 5. It affects about 1 in 18,000 newborns, up to 8 children are diagnosed with the condition in Queensland each year.

Early diagnosis is the best way to ensure treatment can be delivered as quickly as possible to stop the illness progressing and prevent loss of a child’s sight.

Children typically have a good recovery when the condition is diagnosed and treated early. However, if it is not treated quickly, cancer cells can spread from the eye to other parts of the body, which can be life-threatening.

Signs and symptoms

The condition is commonly detected by an unusual glow of the pupil, which often reflects light like a cat’s eye. Children with eye tumours may also have a turned or crossed eye, squint, pain or redness around the eye, or poor vision.

The main signs and symptoms include:

  • an eye that appears white or ‘glowing’ when a light is shone into it (such as the flash of a camera in a photograph)
  • eyes that seem to be looking in different directions (also called a ‘turned’, ‘lazy’ or ‘crossed’ eye)
  • a red or painful eye
  • an eye that is larger than usual
  • cloudiness in the coloured part of the eye and the pupil.

Early diagnosis is the best way to ensure treatment can be delivered as quickly as possible to stop the illness progressing.

If you are concerned your child could have a retinoblastoma, urgently seek medical attention via your ophthalmologist, emergency department, local GP, paediatrician or optometrist.

What causes retinoblastoma?

Retinoblastoma is an inherited genetic disease, however 90 per cent of patients have no known family history. Any children who have a family history of retinoblastoma should have regular eye exams to assess their risk.

How is retinoblastoma diagnosed?

Your child’s doctor will complete several tests, such as:

  • medical history
  • physical examination
  • eye exam
  • blood tests
  • medical imaging – ultrasound of the eye, CT scan or MRI scan.

Treatment

Treatment may include freezing the tumour, laser therapy, chemotherapy or radiation. It depends on the age of your child and the size and stage of the cancer. In severe cases, children may have surgery to remove the entire eye and part of the optic nerve.

It’s important to check your child’s eye health with your GP or optometrist as soon as you notice anything unusual.

Similar symptoms could also be a sign of around 20 other serious eye conditions, with early detection and treatment offering the best chance to preserve a child’s sight.

Key points

  • Retinoblastoma is a type of cancer that develops in the retina, the light-detecting tissue at the back of the eye.
  • Early diagnoses is the best way to stop the illness progressing.
  • Treatment generally include freezing the tumour, laser therapy, chemotherapy, or radiation.

For more information

Children’s Cancer Australia
Redkite
Canteen

Developed by the Ophthalmology Department, Queensland Children’s Hospital. We acknowledge the input of consumers and carers.

Resource ID: FS054 Reviewed: March 2022

Disclaimer
This information has been produced by healthcare professionals as a guideline only and is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your child’s doctor or healthcare professionals. Information is updated regularly, so please check you are referring to the most recent version. Seek medical advice, as appropriate, for concerns regarding your child’s health.

CHQ