Retinoblastoma is a rare cancer of the eye that is usually diagnosed in the first year or two of life. All children are at risk for it, and it is almost certainly fatal if it's not caught early. Despite regular screening for the disease, it's usually the alert mom or family member who first spots the problem.
Eden Lowlicht was diagnosed with retinoblastoma at age 2. To save her life, doctors had to remove her left eye.
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Mother Lainie Lowlicht says, "This was such a bomb for the whole family. She was diagnosed, and a week later, she was in surgery."
Despite the loss, Eden is a lucky girl. Her mother actually spotted the cancer when she noticed something different about Eden in family photographs.
Lainie Lowlicht says, "I noticed in every picture, repeatedly over and over again only one eye was glowing red, with the healthy red-eye reflex, and the other eye wasn't glowing at all. And I knew that there was definitely something wrong with that."
Explaining over visuals, Dr. David Abramson says, "As you're looking into the eye, you're actually seeing the cancer cells on the inside of the eye."
The eye cancer specialist says parents may see the abnormality, but not realize exactly what it is. One-year-old Elijah had an eye removed after his family noticed something was wrong.
Larain Butler says, "It looked like a white mass that was in his eye. The pupil was like a white mass. We got it just in time that it didn't spread at all."
Dr. Abramson explains, "Retinoblastoma is usually detected by a family member, and usually the mom. The good news is that we have many ways to treat these children and cure them, the simplest way and most direct is to remove the eye."
Once a cancerous eye is removed, the chances of a total cure are very high. Children are monitored carefully to make sure the cancer doesn't occur in the other eye.
Dr. Abramson says, "This is a cancer that if it's cured within a few years, never comes back and will have no long-term consequences from the treatment."
The Lowlicht family now looks at their family photo album in a whole new light.
Lainie Lowlicht says, "Those glowing, red, demon eyes are fantastic. You want that. It's not pretty, but it's perfect. That means a healthy retina."
An abnormality in the eye isn't necessarily cancer; it could be another condition like a cataract. But any child who has an abnormality in the eye noticed by the family, either in a photograph or just by looking, should seek medical attention that includes a dilated eye exam by an ophthalmologist.
About a third of cases are genetic. In families known to have the genetic defect, it is possible now to do genetic testing to identify the abnormal gene in a parent. And now doctors can use state-of-the-art fertility techniques to identify cancer genes in an embryo, so doctors can screen out those sick embryos and choose only healthy embryos to implant.