Pediatric Retinoblastoma: How Screening Saves Lives

For little Parker Abbott, a 20 month old infant from Waxahachie, Texas, life has already been filled with tremendous challenges. Parker suffers from bilateral retinoblastoma, a rare form of cancer that forms in children’s eyes. There are approximately 700 cases reported annually, with around a quarter of them being bilateral, which means that cancer forms on both retinas.

The majority of these cases form in children under 5 years of age, and are caused by irregularities in the development of special retinal cells called retinoblasts. For children like Parker, such a diagnosis is a prescription for months of arduous treatments and surgeries.

Many children may lose an eye to the disease, or tragically lose their battle entirely. As with all cancer cases, early observation and treatment is vital to improving the survival odds of a patient.

The Importance of Screening

In the past, conditions such as pediatric retinoblastoma have all too often slipped by the notice of doctors who have performed only cursory eye exams on children, rather than the scrupulous screenings required to spot many hidden, serious problems. Thankfully, this position is beginning to change as the medical community wakes up to the real risk involved in not carefully screening children for these maladies.

Infant Vision DevelopmentThe eye is a very complex and subtle biological machine. It can appear to be working at a very high level, but all the while be masking some kind of serious flaw or defect. Most of the time, these issues will just involve vision problems. On rare occasions, however, they can prove to be a lot more serious.

Regular screening by a trained professional is absolutely vital, especially in the first five years of a child’s life.

Modern Technologies

New medical tools are being developed that can help diagnose illnesses such as retinoblastoma at very early stages, including digital photography tools developed by researchers at Harvard and Baylor Universities. MRI scans, ultrasounds and bone scans can also be used to detect a tumour. If a problem is discovered, there are a number of established treatments and promising clinical techniques to combat a retinoblastoma.

Optometric physicians have all the tools at their disposal to detect this illness early and to start a child on an immediate treatment program. In the modern age, there is no excuse for a child not to receive a comprehensive eye exam from a trained professional, or indeed for that professional not to recognize any potential future problems.

The Fight for Fairness

For Parker Abbott, hope remains that he can overcome his terrible burden without losing his vision, or indeed his life. For many other individuals and families, no such optimism exists. The best they can hope for is that others do not have to endure the same loss that they have, and that no more children have to slip through the cracks due to a diagnosable and treatable disease.

If you or a family member has suffered loss of vision, loss of an eye, or death from a pediatric retinoblastoma that could and should have been diagnosed earlier, please do not hesitate to contact us. It is only through meticulous care and accountability that we will ever succeed in defeating this terrible ailment and protecting all of our children.