Frontline nurses urged to rule out eye cancer


A children’s cancer charity is calling for all squints in babies and young children to be checked with a red reflex test to rule out eye cancer.

Figures released today from the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT) show that since 2012, almost a quarter (24%) of babies and young children diagnosed with retinoblastoma (Rb) presented with a squint as a symptom.

Joy Felgate, Chief Executive of CHECT, said that delays in treatment are a growing problem.

‘In our experience, some babies and young children are facing serious delays in receiving life-saving treatment as a result of parents either being told incorrectly that their baby’s squint is completely normal, or being given a non-urgent squint referral,’ she said.

As squints are common in babies up to the age of three months, the only way to determine whether this is a sign of a much more serious condition is to carry out a simple red reflex test, which is a non-invasive procedure, simply involving looking in the eye with a hand-held ophthalmoscope.

‘Non-urgent squint referrals can take months to come through, which can be a devastating delay for a child with undiagnosed eye cancer,’ Mrs Felgate said. ‘Retinoblastoma is a very aggressive form of cancer and any delays in diagnosis can have a serious impact on treatment options. Currently over 70% of children with unilateral Rb lose an eye to the disease.

‘We are asking frontline healthcare professionals to check every squint they see with the red reflex test or, if they are don’t feel able to do this accurately, to refer the child urgently to their GP.’

Retinoblastoma is a fast-growing cancer of the eye affecting mainly 0 to 5-year-old children. Early detection of this aggressive condition is crucial to offer the child the best chance of saving their vision, their eyes and their life.

The CHECT urged nurses to pay particular attention to children with: 

  • A recently onset squint
  • A white reflex (leukocoria) or an abnormal reflex in flash photographs
  • A change in colour to the iris
  • A deterioration in vision.

Occasionally a retinoblastoma may present as a red, sore or swollen eye without infection. It is important to remember, however, that a child with Rb may appear systemically well.

For more information, visit the CHECT site here

Picture: gosheshe@flickr

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