• Retinoblastoma Diagnosis and Treatment

    Reviewed By Odalys Mendoza MD
    Oct. 30, 2020

    An ophthalmologist will do a complete medical exam to diagnose retinoblastoma. The doctor will do imaging tests to see if retinoblastoma is affecting other areas around the eye.

    Your child’s ophthalmologist may refer you to other specialists, such as a cancer doctor or a genetic counselor.

    How is Retinoblastoma Treated?

    How retinoblastoma is treated depends on the tumor and whether the cancer has spread to other areas. The goal of treatment is to save vision whenever possible.


    Chemotherapy is a drug treatment. It is when chemicals travel throughout the body to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may help shrink a tumor so that another treatment can be used to treat the remaining cancer cells. Chemotherapy may also be used to treat cancer that has spread outside the eyeball or to other areas of the body.

    Radiation therapy

    Radiation therapy uses beams of energy to kill cancer cells. In some cases, a small disk of radioactive material is placed in or near the tumor. This disk is left in place for some time to kill tumor cells. In other cases, radiation is applied to the tumor from outside the body. A large machine beams energy targeted at the tumor.

    Laser therapy

    A laser may be used to destroy blood vessels that feed the tumor, killing the cancer cells.

    Cold treatments (cryotherapy)

    An extremely cold substance (such as liquid nitrogen) is used to freeze cancer cells. Once the cells freeze, the substance is removed and the cells thaw out. This process of freezing and thawing is repeated, killing cancer cells.

    Heat treatments (thermotherapy)

    Extreme heat is targeted at cancer cells to kill them.

    Surgery (enucleation)

    If a tumor has grown too much for other treatments, surgery may be needed to remove the eyeball. This may help keep the cancer from spreading to other areas of the body.

    After removing the eyeball, the surgeon places an artificial eye implant in the eye socket. The eye’s muscles are attached to this implant. Eventually the eye’s muscles will move this eyeball just as they did with the natural eye. However, the implanted eyeball cannot see.

    Several weeks after surgery, a custom-made artificial eye can be made to match the healthy eye. This new eye clips onto the eye implant and sits right behind the eyelids just as the natural eye does. Again, this eye will not see. However, it will look and move like the healthy eye.

    Removing an eye will affect a child’s vision. However, most children adapt very well over time. In many cases, it will not be obvious that the child has an artificial eye.