Can smartphones detect eye cancer like retinoblastoma?

If you’re a parent, you likely have hundreds of photographs of your child stored on your smartphone. Could these photos potentially save your child’s life?

Flash photography can reveal a white or yellow glow — sometimes just a fleck — in the eye that could be a sign of eye disease, such as cataracts, a retinal issue or even eye cancer (retinoblastoma).

If you see a glow, see a doctor

Retinoblastoma is a rare type of cancer that usually affects children under age 5. The average age of diagnosis is 12 to 18 months.

“Early detection and intervention of eye diseases, such as retinoblastoma, are very important to prevent spread of cancer to the brain and the rest of the body,” said Aparna Ramasubramanian, M.D., ocular oncologist with Norton Cancer Eye Program, affiliated with the University of Louisville. “If you see a white or yellow glow, see a doctor.”

Norton Cancer Eye Program

Norton Children’s offers one of the country’s few programs dedicated to caring for kids with retinoblastoma.

With current treatment methods, more than 95 percent of children with retinoblastoma will survive.

“Ten percent of children who get retinoblastoma have a family history, and 90 percent develop without any family history,” Dr. Ramasubramanian said. “There is nothing that a parent did or did not do to cause the gene abnormality responsible for retinoblastoma.”

Retinoblastoma and other serious eye conditions don’t always have warning signs. Your child’s pediatrician should check your child’s eyes during wellness visits.

The next time you take a photograph of your child or notice a Facebook friend’s picture and something doesn’t look right, don’t be afraid to say something. Early detection can save lives.


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