Retinoblastoma is a rare type of eye cancer that usually develops in early childhood, typically before the age of 5. This form of cancer develops in the retina, which is the specialized light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye that detects light and color.
In most children with retinoblastoma, the disease affects only one eye. However, one out of three children with retinoblastoma develops cancer in both eyes. The most common first sign of retinoblastoma is a visible whiteness in the pupil called "cat's eye reflex" or leukocoria. This unusual whiteness is particularly noticeable in photographs taken with a flash. Other signs and symptoms of retinoblastoma include crossed eyes or eyes that do not point in the same direction (strabismus), which can cause squinting; a change in the color of the colored part of the eye (iris); redness, soreness, or swelling of the eyelids; and blindness or poor vision in the affected eye or eyes.
Retinoblastoma is often curable when it is diagnosed early. However, if it is not treated promptly, this cancer can spread beyond the eye to other parts of the body. This advanced form of retinoblastoma can be life-threatening.
When retinoblastoma is associated with a gene mutation that occurs in all of the body's cells, it is known as germinal retinoblastoma. People with this form of retinoblastoma also have an increased risk of developing several other cancers outside the eye. Specifically, they are more likely to develop a cancer of the pineal gland in the brain (pinealoma), a type of bone cancer known as osteosarcoma, cancers of soft tissues such as muscle, and an aggressive form of skin cancer called melanoma.
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