Treatment for retinoblastoma in children has two main goals: to prevent the return of the cancer and to preserve vision. Several types of therapies are used for retinoblastoma, and 99% of children can be cured.
This is chemotherapy given into a vein. Systemic chemotherapy helps to shrink tumors in the eye. The use of systemic chemotherapy often makes it possible to completely eliminate smaller tumors, in combination with other measures such as:
- Photocoagulation: using laser light to destroy blood vessels that supply nutrients to the tumor
- Thermotherapy: using heat to destroy cancer cells
- Cryotherapy: using extreme cold to destroy cancer cells
- Radioactive (iodine) plaque: placing a radioactive patch in the retina; the patch is removed after the tumor has received a specific dose of radiation
Systemic chemotherapy is also used after surgical removal of the eye (see below) when the tumor has advanced into the deep layers of the eye or into the optic nerve, and when the retinoblastoma has spread outside of the eye.
Chemotherapy may also be delivered locally to the eye. This can be done by an ophthalmologist who specializes in retinoblastoma. Sometimes the ophthalmologist can inject chemotherapy using a needle into structures of the eye. This is sometimes called subtenon or intravitreal chemotherapy. Sometimes a specialist called a neuroradiologist places a catheter into the artery of the eye for the opththalmologist to inject chemotherapy. In this case, the neuroradiologist introduces the catheter into an artery in the groin area and guides it under X-ray guidance all the way into an artery in the eye. This is called intra-arterial chemotherapy. Sometimes this is given in addition to systemic chemotherapy and sometimes it is used alone.
Doctors will use uses X-rays or other high-energy particles to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. Depending upon the dose, radiation can interfere with normal growth, including growth of the bones around the eye (orbit). The use of radiation can also increase the risk of tumors later in life for children with the genetic form of retinoblastoma. Sometimes retinoblastoma tumors are treated with radiation by placing a radioactive plaque outside the eye, immediately behind where the tumor is, for several hours so that a given dose of radiation can be administered locally.