Pune, May 9, 2018: With reported incidences of Retinoblastoma (life threatening eye cancer affecting new born and very young children up to 5 years of age) increasing over the years, doctors unanimously recommend that screening of eye for any abnormality in infants/toddlers should be made essential. Further, doctors suggest that systemizing eye screenings for infants/ toddlers will go a long way in preventing childhood blindness.
Retinoblastoma (RB) is a life-threatening eye cancer affecting new born and very young children up to 5 years of age. It can occur either in one eye or in both. Although it is a life-threatening cancer, majority of the children could survive and retain vision if RB is detected in its early stage. Data from different sources reveal that every year globally over 8,000 new cases are reported of which easily 1,500 cases are from India. However, the reality is many cases of RB goes unreported/ undetected and also awareness is abysmally low especially in India and more so in rural areas.
RB at its early stage is just not easily identifiable but for some telltale symptoms including a white shiny spot, squinted eye, swelling of the eye. As RB progresses a white mass from within the eye becomes prominent. Even this is often missed. As RB further progresses, the eye becomes painful, red and swollen. If not properly diagnosed and treated at this stage, the cancer may spread outside the eye, over time there is every chance of it spreading to brain and other parts of the body and it becomes a threat to life.
According to Dr. Sonal S Chaugule M.S, Consultant- Ophthalmic Plastic Surgery, Orbit and Ocular Oncology, PBMA’s H. V. Desai Eye Hospital, Pune, “Awareness about Retinoblastoma is low and early detection is crucial to give the best chance of saving the child’s life, eye and vision. Early detection and proper treatment will ensure 95% of the children diagnosed with RB are saved from death, 90% have their eye intact and 85% have their vision protected.”
Further, she pointed out that, unfortunately in Indian scenario a child is taken to an eye specialist only when there is any notable problem, which makes treatment of RB at a later stage much harder. Against this background, she suggested that systemized screening of eye for any abnormality in infants/toddlers should be made mandatory and sensitizing doctors & healthcare authorities at different levels assumes great importance and opines that RB screening with an ophthalmoscope by a trained doctor will be beneficial in detection.
RB in majority of the cases is either hereditary or genetic disorder and genetic screening enables families to know if their child has a risk of RB, early and periodical checkups helps in early diagnosis of RB. With abundant caution it is suggested that each family take a flash photograph of their child and if there is a white shining spot inside the eye, they should consult an ophthalmologist immediately. Also, she suggests that the mother can play a major role in finding any abnormality in the child’s eye by taking a closer look while nursing.
According to Mr. Thanmaya Bekkalale, Founder Trustee, Iksha Foundation (a Bengaluru-based NGO supporting children with Eye cancer), “We only know the reported cases of RB, there are numerous cases that go unreported. The need of the hour is to spread individual and societal awareness about RB and promote early detection as it is documented that every day 4 children are born with eye cancer in India and one of them facing death as a result of diagnosis at advanced stage or not diagnosed at all.”
To create awareness on RB, one week in the month of May (starting from second Sunday of the month – May 13 to 19, 2018) is observed as World Retinoblastoma Week. Given the low priority given to RB as compared to other disorders, Iksha Foundation is keen to build visibility about RB among various stakeholders and ensure that the message of early detection is communicated amongst the masses. This becomes vital as it is a fact that parents and even some healthcare personal are not even aware about RB symptoms.