Treatments for retinoblastoma

If your child has retinoblastoma, the healthcare team will create a treatment plan just for your child. It will be based on your child’s health and specific information about the cancer. The goals of treating retinoblastoma are to cure the cancer, preserve as much vision as possible and lower the risk of late side effects.

Your child’s treatment will be overseen by a pediatric oncologist. They will work with other specialists, such as a pediatric ophthalmologist, pediatric surgeon, radiation oncologist and genetic counsellor. Find out more about your child’s healthcare team.

When deciding which treatments to offer for retinoblastoma, the healthcare team will consider:

  • if the cancer is in one eye (called unilateral retinoblastoma) or both eyes (called bilateral retinoblastoma)
  • the stage of the retinoblastoma
  • the location, size and number of tumours in the eye
  • whether the cancer has spread outside the eye (called extraocular retinoblastoma)
  • the child’s vision in each eye

Expert review and references

  • American Cancer Society. Treating Retinoblastoma. 2015.
  • Canadian Retinoblastoma Society . National Retinoblastoma Strategy Canadian Guidelines for Care. Canadian Journal of Ophthalmology. NRC Research Press; 2009.
  • Children's Hospital Boston. Retinoblastoma. Boston, MA: Children's Hospital Boston; 2017.
  • Hurwitz RL, Shields CL, Shields JA et al . Retinoblastoma. Pizzo PA & Poplack DG (eds.). Principles and Practice of Pediatric Oncology. 7th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer; 2016: 27: 700-725.
  • Isidro MA. Medscape Reference: Retinoblastoma Treatment & Management. 2016.
  • National Cancer Institute. Retinoblastoma Treatment (PDQ®) Health Professional Version. 2016.
  • St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Retinoblastoma. Memphis, TN: St. Jude Children's Research Hospital; 2017.
  • Retinoblastoma: The Basics. University of Pennsylvania. OncoLink. Reviewed ed. University of Pennsylvania; 2008.

Treatments for intraocular retinoblastoma

Intraocular retinoblastoma is cancer that is contained within the eye and has not spread to other parts of the body. Treatment for smaller tumours usually consists of a local therapy (cryosurgery, thermotherapy or laser surgery). Treatment for larger tumours may use plaque brachytherapy or chemotherapy.

Treatments for extraocular retinoblastoma

The following are treatment options for extraocular retinoblastoma (cancer that has spread outside the eye). The types of treatments given are based on the unique needs of the child with cancer.

Treatments for recurrent retinoblastoma

Recurrent retinoblastoma means that the cancer has come back (has recurred) after it has been treated. It may recur in the same location as the original cancer or it may recur in another part of the body. The types of treatments given are based on the unique needs of the child with cancer.

Chemotherapy for retinoblastoma

Chemotherapy is one of the main treatments for retinoblastoma.

Surgery for retinoblastoma

Surgery is a common treatment for retinoblastoma.

Radiation therapy for retinoblastoma

Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells. It is sometimes used to treat retinoblastoma.

Stem cell transplant for retinoblastoma

A stem cell transplant may be used to treat retinoblastoma. A stem cell transplant replaces a person’s stem cells. It is used to restore bone marrow when it has been damaged by disease or destroyed by high doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Follow-up after treatment for retinoblastoma

Retinoblastoma behaves differently in each child, and a standard follow-up schedule would not work for everyone. Parents of children with retinoblastoma should talk to their child’s doctor about a follow-up plan that suits their individual situation. Follow-up care is often shared among the cancer specialists, the ophthalmologist and family doctor.

Late effects of treatments for retinoblastoma

Supportive care helps children and their parents meet the physical, practical, emotional and spiritual challenges of retinoblastoma. It is an important part of cancer care.