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How Optometrists Diagnose Retinoblastomas During A Children's Eye Exam

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How Optometrists Diagnose Retinoblastomas During A Children's Eye Exam

Retinoblastoma is a rare form of cancerous eye tumor that most often affects children under age two. These tumours can occur in one or both eyes. Retinoblastoma is often diagnosed because  a child is showing symptoms that prompt a visit to the optometrist, or because the optometrist discovers abnormalities in the retina during a routine eye exam. Here are some of the ways retinoblastoma affects the eyes, as well as common symptoms and causes, and how your eye doctor will diagnose this disease.

What Retinoblastoma Is And How An Eye Doctor Identifies It

What Is Retinoblastoma?

Retinoblastoma is a type of eye cancer that causes tumours to grow in the retina. The retina is a thin layer of tissue in the back of the eye that contains light-sensitive cells that receive information and transmit signals to the brain through the optic nerve. When tumors form on the retina, they inhibit the ability of the eye to communicate with the brain and can impair vision. Although it can happen at any age, retinoblastoma is most common in children aged 2 years or younger.

What Are The Signs of Retinoblastoma?

The most common sign is when the pupil reflects white, called white pupillary reflex or leukocoria. Crossed eyes are another common sign that would prompt further assessment from your optometrist.

Other symptoms include:

  • a painful, red eye
  • poor vision
  • inflammation of tissue surrounding the eye
  • an enlarged or dilated pupil
  • different colored irises (a condition known as heterochromia)
  • delayed development

How Is Retinoblastoma diagnosed?

An eye doctor uses eye drops to enlarge the pupil, which allows them to see the back of the eye. The eye doctor may also use ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), blood tests, and genetic testing to determine if the patient has retinoblastoma. When retinoblastoma is suspected, an oncologist may be called to perform tests to determine whether or not the cancer is contained in the eye. The earlier retinoblastoma is caught, the more likely it is that the patient will not have permanent effects. If there is a history of retinoblastoma in the family, particularly with a sibling, eye exams are recommended earlier and more frequently than typical. If a child has already had retinoblastoma in one eye, they are at a higher risk of developing it in the other eye. Eye exams are always important because they facilitate early detection of retinoblastoma and other treatable eye diseases.

Take Your Child To A Calgary Optometrist

Retinoblastoma is a serious condition, but early detection can lead to effective treatment and positive outcomes. To ensure early detection, take your child for their first children’s eye exam by the time they’re 6 months old. Market Mall Optometry uses age appropriate equipment and technologies to provide comfortable and comprehensive eye health services for children. Our Calgary-based optometrists protect your vision with early detection and effective treatment. Call 1-403-286-3994 to book your appointment today, or fill out the contact form to have someone reach out to you.


Q: What causes retinoblastoma?
A: Retinoblastoma is genetic, caused by a mutation in the genes. There are no external factors that contribute to it and therefore there is no way to avoid it. This is why detection and early intervention are so important and why you should book a child’s eye exam when they are 6 months old.

Q: Who is covered by Alberta Health Care?
A: Alberta Health Care Insurance Plan covers all comprehensive annual eye exams for children aged 0-18 and for adults aged 65+. The AHCIP also provides coverage for all emergency visits to the eye doctor.

Q: Are children’s eye exams and adult eye exams different?
A: Yes, in children’s eye exams we assess conditions that are common in children, such as lazy-eyes and cross-eyes. We also do functional eye exams that are used to pinpoint other issues that may be causing learning difficulties for the child. If you want to know more about children’s eye exams, read the article 3 Differences Between Children’s Eye Exams And Adult Eye Exams.

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