Retinoblastoma refers to a tumor growth behind the retina in the eyes. This area is full of nerve endings and is quite important for maintaining the vision of a person. Retinoblastoma is common in small children, generally aged between 3-5 years. Unlike many other forms of cancer though, retinoblastoma is curable if the disorder is detected in its earlier stages.
Treatment generally involves several procedures. In case the tumor is located just behind the retina, simple laser surgery can get rid of the same. Chemotherapy is the first course of treatment for children though. Other forms of radiation therapy can also be tried if no other treatment gets rid of the cancerous cells. Finally, surgery is the last option and is only used when all else fails. This surgery usually results in the child permanently losing vision in that eye.
Even after the treatment is completed and the retinoblastoma has been cured, the child needs to visit the doctor regularly to get screened against relapse of the same cancer or formation of new cancerous cells on other parts of the body. People who receive radiation and chemotherapy are more likely to suffer from further cancers later in life.
Early detection is vital for treating retinoblastoma and limiting the damage to the eye of the child in question. Doctors usually combine a number of treatment methods to get rid of the cancer cells from the patient’s body.
Chemotherapy is the first course of treatment that doctors choose in such a case. A powerful cocktail of drugs is injected directly into the eye or the blood vessels carrying blood to the eye. This is only done if the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body. If the cancer has spread, the medication is ingested by mouth, so that they can take effect throughout the entire body.
Cryotherapy is another form of treatment in cases of retinoblastoma. In this procedure, a super-cooled metal probe is used to kill off the cancer cells behind the retina. This metal probe is injected directly into the eye and is suitable for tumors located just behind the surface.
A laser treatment called thermotherapy may also be used. In such a case, doctors use a laser to destroy the cancerous growth behind the eye.
Radiation therapy is used when the above procedures do not net significant results. A source of radiation is placed inside the eye and this harmful radiation kills off the retinoblastoma causing cells in a few days.
Surgery is only done when the tumor is of a significant size and cannot be eliminated by other means. However, performing a surgery for retinoblastoma generally means that the child’s eyesight cannot be saved.
Children who are diagnosed with retinoblastoma are eligible for the treatment. The course of treatment depends on how far the cancer has progressed and on other factors. A doctor will recommend the medication and the other lifestyle changes that may be needed for the child.
Children who do not suffer from retinoblastoma are not qualified for these treatments. Even if a child does suffer from the disease, not every course of treatment is suitable for every patient. The doctors usually check the location of the tumor and the size of the same to determine the correct form of treatment for that particular patient. While earlier stages can be cured through simple cryotherapy or thermotherapy, advanced stage patients may require radiation or even surgery.
There can be major side effects to certain forms of treatments in case of retinoblastoma. For instance, both chemotherapy and radiation therapy introduces harmful elements into the body of the patient. Chemotherapy may lead to fatigue, hair loss, anemia, vomiting and nausea, loss of appetite and infection.
Aside from these short-term side effects, patients who receive radiation and chemotherapy are known to be at a greater risk of developing cancers in the future than people who do not receive such forms of treatment.
Surgery is usually left as the last resort in case of retinoblastoma cases. This is because one of the most drastic side effects of the procedure is the loss of vision in one eye. This is a permanent loss and cannot be regained in the future.
The rate of recovery depends on extent of the disease. For instance, recovery from the initial stages of retinoblastoma is quite simple. However, if the disease progresses further, both the treatment and recovery becomes complicated. Chemotherapy and radiation may take months to completely remove the cancerous cells from the body.
Radiation and chemotherapy can cost around Rs. 20 Lacs to Rs. 30 Lacs, while surgery can cost around Rs. 5 Lacs to Rs. 10 Lacs.
The results may not be permanent, as a patient may relapse into the cancer even after the same has been removed from the body. So continuous check-ups are necessary even when the retinoblastoma is cured.