Woman Discovers Son's Rare Eye Cancer Using Smartphone's Flash

A woman from the UK used her smartphone flash to detect a 'white glow' in her 3-month-old son's eye, which turned out to be a symptom of retinoblastoma, a rare form of eye cancer. Read on to know more about the condition.
Sarah Hedges with Thomas

Sarah Hedges with Thomas who is one-and-a-half-year-old now and completely cancer free

A mother from the UK discovered spotted her baby son’s rare cancer using her smartphone’s camera. Forty-year-old Sarah Hedges caught a glow like a cat’s eye in the retina of her three-month-old baby, Thomas.
Sarah, a mother of four, was intrigued and concerned and turned to the internet for answers, hoping to unravel the mystery behind this unusual occurrence.
She later showed the pictures to the doctor, who conducted more tests to diagnose Thomas with an eye cancer – retinoblastoma. This cancer occurs when nerve cells in the retina develop genetic mutations that cause cells to continue growing and multiply when healthy cells die. The accumulating mass of cells then forms a tumour.
According to doctors, retinoblastoma cells can invade further into the eye and nearby structures and can be fatal.
However, since Thomas’ diagnosis was done well in time, he received chemotherapy treatment and is now recovering well.
"I thought I was going to lose him, when you hear the word cancer, you automatically think of the worse - this can be life-threatening. I just wanted to be swallowed up and someone to tell me that it was a bad dream and that I would wake up in a minute,” she told The Sun.
According to statistics, the incidence of retinoblastoma across the world is estimated to be around 11 cases per million children younger than five years of age, or one case of retinoblastoma per 18000-30000 live births.

Signs and symptoms of retinoblastoma

Even though the condition is diagnosed before the age of three, doctors say most children cannot describe their symptoms. Instead, the signs keep changing in the eye appearance.
A few signs of the condition include:

Leukocoria

The earliest and most common symptom of retinoblastoma is which makes the pupil of your eye appear white or pale.
A few other symptoms include:
  • Eyes that have trouble following movement or do not follow it at all
  • Misaligned eyes or strabismus
  • Pain in the eyes
  • Enlarged eye
  • Bulging eye, known as proptosis
  • Blood in the front chamber of your eye
  • Infection
  • Swelling and inflammation in your eyes

What causes retinoblastoma?

According to studies, retinoblastoma is a type of cancer where retinal cells malfunction and start to multiply uncontrollably forming tumours and damaging surrounding tissues. The unchecked growth causes the cells to metastasize beyond the original tumour. 1
This cancer is usually caused due to an error in your DNA. The mutation that causes retinoblastoma suppresses RB1 – a tumour suppressor gene that is responsible for the normal development of your retina. The mutation leads to the formation of the tumour.
Whether it is inherited or not, experts recommend genetic testing and counseling for children with retinoblastoma. They also recommend testing for biological siblings and other family members.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, inheriting a gene mutation also determines what form of retinoblastoma your child has as genetic and hereditary cases are usually bilateral.
A sibling of a child with retinoblastoma also has an increased chance of developing it. When both parents are unaffected by retinoblastoma, biological siblings of the affected child have a 4-7 per cent risk of having retinoblastoma, too.
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