Retinoblastoma Cancer Treatment


Retinoblastoma is a rare childhood cancer that develops in the retina portion of the eye, which contains nerve cells called retinoblasts that send light images to the brain allowing sight to occur. When they eyes of a child are developing in the womb, the retinoblast cells are typically produced until there is enough to fill the retina. However, in those affected with retinoblastoma, the retinoblast cells do not stop forming and continue to grow out of control.

This form of eye cancer is more commonly seen in infants and children aged two and younger with approximately 300 new cases diagnosed every year 1. Typically only one eye is usually affected, but in about every one in three cases, the retinoblastoma can affect both eyes 1.

Treatment options for retinoblastoma may include one or more of the following:

If the tumor is very large at diagnosis and vision is already poor or even destroyed, a surgery called enucleation is usually performed. An enucleation removes the entire eyeball along with the optic nerve and is replaced with an orbital implant and an eye prosthesis that matches the remaining eye. If both eyes are affected and vision has already been damaged, the removal of both eyes is often the safest treatment option. However, since removal of both eyes would cause complete blindness, other treatment options may also be discussed in order to aid in saving vision in one or both eyes.
Radiation Therapy
External or internal radiation therapy can be used to treat some patients with retinoblastoma in order to preserve vision and the need for an orbital implant.
Laser Therapy
A procedure called photocoagulation uses heat produced by beams of light to destroy small retinoblastoma tumors and any surrounding blood vessels.
This treatment uses infrared rays at temperatures not as high as laser therapy to destroy small tumors. If the tumor(s) are larger in size, thermotherapy is often combined with chemotherapy for a more effective treatment option.
The exact opposite of laser and thermotherapy, cryotherapy uses freezing temperatures to destroy the cancerous cells. In this procedure, a small, frozen probe is inserted into the eye to destroy the tumor.
Chemotherapy may be given prior to radiation, laser, thermotherapy or cryotherapy in order to shrink the tumor in order for these additional therapies to work more effectively. It may be given as a pill, by vein or injected directly into the eye, which is largely dependent on the size of the tumor as well as if it has spread beyond the eye.
Bone Marrow or Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Transplant
This form of treatment occurs when high doses of chemotherapy or radiation are given to destroy bone marrow cells (where white blood cells develop) and then are replaced with healthy stem cells, which form new white blood cells, previously removed from the bone marrow or blood of the patient or a donor. This form of therapy is usually reserved for retinoblastoma that has spread outside of the eye and/or has not responded to other standard treatments.


  1. American Cancer Society. Retinoblastoma Detailed Guide. Accessed on September 13, 2010.


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