Retinoblastoma more common in young children

BY JAMI MURPHY
Former Reporter
07/12/2010 07:19 AM
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – According to the National Cancer Institute, about 300 children are diagnosed each year in the United States with retinoblastoma, a rare eye cancer that occurs in children younger than 5.

Hunter Kelley is one of those unfortunate children who received that diagnosis this year.
Kimberly Kelley, Hunter’s mom and a Cherokee Nation citizen, said her son was 17 months when he was diagnosed in April.

“It was back around January, his eye was turning to the side. His right eye looked kind of like a lazy eye does. It just kept getting worse throughout the year,” she said. “And about April, we were actually at the park and he started walking toward one of the tables and hit it on his right side like he couldn’t see it. At that point it was turning out a lot more and it was just going in its own direction several times a day.”

According to the NCI, the disease is more common in infants and young children than in older children. The average age of children when they are diagnosed is 2.

Kimberly said she made an appointment at a Choctaw Nation clinic near her hometown of McAlester, but the clinic couldn’t get him in until July 1. So she made an appointment with her eye doctor, who referred Hunter to a pediatric ophthalmologist.

“He thought it was a cataract at first, so he dilated both eyes and later he went back to look at it and he said it looked like a tumor,” Kimberly said. “He told us we were going to go see a retina specialist in Tulsa, but then they ended up calling us and saying we were not going to the retina specialist, but to the Dean McGee Eye Institute, and two days later we were getting ultrasounds and everything else done on his eyes.”

After the next two exams, doctors had determined that it was retinoblastoma in both eyes. In Hunter’s right eye, the retina was completely detached as a result of two massive tumors and his left eye had 100 tumors.

After this news, the family was sent to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., where Hunter checked in May 2.

Since arriving at St. Jude’s, Hunter has received three rounds of chemotherapy and returned home July 1. He is expected to return to the hospital once a month for checkups and to receive chemotherapy treatments. He is expected to receive 11 treatments overall.

Kimberly said the tumors have shrunk after some chemotherapy treatments, and at the rate they are improving, Hunter could potentially keep his eyes even though they will be impaired.

According to the NCI, more than 90 percent of children with retinoblastoma can be cured, although chances diminish if the cancer spreads to other body parts.

Hunter’s grandmother Patricia Politte said, “If only we had known more about this cancer, Hunter’s would have been diagnosed earlier.”

Kimberly said parents should take their children, even young children, to an eye doctor for check-ups. An ophthalmologist can see something a pediatrician cannot, she added.

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