Retinoblastoma - Childhood: Overview

This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 08/2014

ON THIS PAGE: You will find some basic information about this disease and the parts of the body it may affect. This is the first page of Cancer.Net’s Guide to Childhood Retinoblastoma. To see other pages, use the menu on the side of your screen. Think of that menu as a roadmap to this full guide.  

Cancer begins when normal cells change and grow uncontrollably, forming a mass called a tumor. A tumor can be cancerous or benign. A cancerous tumor is malignant, meaning it can spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumor means the tumor will not spread.

Retinoblastoma is a rare cancer that begins in the part of the eye called the retina. The retina is a thin layer of nerve tissue that coats the back of the eye and enables the eye to see. Most often, retinoblastoma is unilateral, meaning it occurs only in one eye. However, it may be present in both eyes, called bilateral. If retinoblastoma spreads, it can spread to the lymph nodes, bones, or the bone marrow (the soft, spongy-like material found inside large bones). Rarely, it involves the central nervous system (CNS; brain and spinal cord).

Children may be born with retinoblastoma, but the disease is rarely diagnosed at birth. Most children who begin treatment before the retinoblastoma has spread beyond the eye are cured. An important goal of treatment in children with retinoblastoma is preserving vision.

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