Holiday photos could warn of retinoblastoma in a child

Visiting with Santa. Opening presents. Cuddling a new toy. Taking photos of our little ones is a treasured part of our holiday celebrations. Beyond the joy these images bring, they also may signal a lifesaving warning of retinoblastoma — a rare form of eye cancer.

Flash photography can reveal a white or yellow glow in the eye that could be caused by retinoblastoma, which occurs most often before age 5. It also might be a sign of eye disease, such as cataracts or a retinal issue. This glow — not to be confused with the common red eye effect — may appear in one or both eyes.

“With so many photos taken during holidays, it’s not unusual to see more cases of retinoblastoma and eye disease diagnosed,” said Aparna Ramasubramanian, M.D., ocular oncologist with Norton Eye Cancer Program, affiliated with the University of Louisville. “Early detection and intervention are critical so we can begin treatment and prevent greater damage.”

New screening technology

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

Pediatricians at Norton Children’s Medical Associates offices can use GoCheck Kids, a customized iPhone app, to detect serious eye issues in children age 6 and younger. The app can check for retinoblastoma, plus other types of cancer and eye diseases.

Using the app, the provider takes a close-up flash photo of a child’s eyes. The app detects the child’s pupil, runs an algorithm and quickly creates a reading that notes any irregularities.

A report is saved automatically in the child’s medical file. It can be shared with other doctors as needed.

Norton Eye Cancer Program

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

Retinoblastoma is rare

Retinoblastoma is relatively rare. Most cases occur in children under age 5. The average age of diagnosis is 12 to 18 months.

“Nothing a parent did or did not do causes the gene abnormality responsible for retinoblastoma,” Dr. Ramasubramanian said. “Only 10 percent of children diagnosed with retinoblastoma have a family history. Ninety percent have no family history.”

Thanks to current treatment methods and early detection, more than 95 percent of children with retinoblastoma will survive.

As you capture great memories this holiday season, pay attention to photographs of children (yours and others, too). Speak up if you see a white or yellow glow, especially if it shows up in multiple photos at different locations.

A white glow doesn’t always mean eye cancer — as the WE C Hope photo challenge shows — but always get it checked out. Better safe than sorry!


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