Eye cancer treatment hit by lack of awareness


HYDERABAD: When Mohammed Sharif spotted redness in his two-year-old son’s eyes, he brushed it aside as an allergy. However, when it persisted for many days, he decided to consult a paediatrician, who in turn, referred him to a radiologist who finally diagnosed the child with retinoblastoma.

Commonly known as cancer of the eye, retinoblastoma comprises three per cent of all cancers affecting children aged between up to four years. Around 2,200 new cases of eye cancer are reported every year in India. However, like Sharif, many people are still unaware of the existence of such a condition and hence recognize it too late.

“While on one hand, the levels of awareness have increased in the past decade, there still remains a large chunk of people who are unaware of retinoblastoma. In some cases, because of the lack of awareness, cases are reported in the advanced stages of the disease,” said Dr Swati Kaliki, consultant, Orbit and Ocular Oncology Services, at the L V Prasad Eye Institute.

“Timely treatment can save 95 per cent of the children suffering from the disease. In 75 per cent of the cases, the child’s vision can be saved. Hence, awareness, early detection and treatment are extremely crucial,” she added. This cancer can be easily identified by physical examination due to the presence of an unusual glint in the eye or a white reflex in almost 60 per cent of the cases.

The institute observes around 240-270 cases of retinoblastoma every year. Over 1,800 children have received treatment for the condition at the institute in the past decade.

“Children are much more tolerant and responsive towards anti-cancer drugs as compared to adults. Hence their chances of recovery are also much better, provided that they are treated on time,” said Dr Vijay Anand Reddy, director of Apollo Cancer Hospital. He, however, stressed on the importance of liaison between paediatricians and oncologists “It is essential that a paediatrician is aware of the symptoms. Only then will he/she diagnosis the condition, leading to timely treatment,” he said.

This week (May 12-May 18) is being observed as World Retinoblastoma Awareness Week across the globe.