About Retinoblastoma 

Retinoblastoma is a rare cancer of the eye where cancerous cells develop in the retina. This type of eye cancer usually forms early childhood before the age of five. For such a rare disease, patients need to seek out a pediatric ocular oncologist that has years of experience and the most advanced treatment options available.


Children who develop retinoblastoma may have one or more mutations in the genes of their retina’s cells. In a small percentage of children with retinoblastoma, a larger section of genetic material is missing, and the chromosomal changes involve several genes, which can cause the tumor. The gene mutation may be passed from a parent to child.


The most common first sign of retinoblastoma is a visible whiteness in the pupil called "cat's eye reflex" or leukocoria. Other signs and symptoms of retinoblastoma may include:

  • Crossed eyes
  • Misaligned eyes (strabismus)
  • Persistent eye pain
  • Redness
  • Irritation
  • Blindness or poor vision.


Columbia’s pediatric ophthalmologists use several tests to examine the retina to diagnose retinoblastoma. These include one or more eye exams performed when the pupil is dilated with medicated eye drops, which enables the doctor to look through the lens and pupil to the retina and use a light to examine the inside of the eye, the retina, and the optic nerve. Other tests our doctors may use include:

  • Ophthalmoscopy–an exam of the inside of the eye using a magnifying lens and light.
  • Slit-lamp biomicroscopy–an exam of the inside of the eye using a strong beam of light and a microscope.
  • Fluorescein angiography–a procedure looking at the blood vessels and the flow of blood inside the eye.

Our ocular oncologist may also use a specialized test of blood or tissue to detect gene mutations if it is suspected or they may also use one or more imaging tests including:

  • Ultrasound–high-energy sound waves to create a picture of the inside of the eye.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI) –magnet and radio waves to make a series of detailed pictures of the inside of the eye.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan–x-ray pictures of the inside of the head and neck as the child slides through the CT scanner while lying on a table.

Treatments We Offer

Retinoblastoma is often curable when it is diagnosed and treated early. Columbia’s ocular oncologists not only treat the cancer but are also driven to preserving your child’s eyesight.

Our specialists will create a course of treatment with you and make sure that you understand and are involved in all aspects of your child’s care and recovery. Retinoblastoma treatment may include:

  • Laser surgery
  • Cryotherapy (the localized use of extreme cold produced by liquid nitrogen or argon gas)
  • Radiation 
  • Radiotherapy (small radioactive plates (plaques) placed directly over the tumor)
  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy

Why Choose Columbia?

Columbia’s pediatric ocular oncologists can devise a course of treatment that includes a combination of approaches to make sure there is not one single cancer cell left and we will monitor and continuously examine your child to make that the eye cancer never returns. We will literally keep an eye on them and your family for many years to come.