Use Your Phone To Check for Aggressive Eye Cancer in Children (Updated 2024)

Two images of children's eyes (MODELS)

A few years ago, an innovative ad campaign from the UK showed us how to use the flash on a smartphone camera to detect eye cancer in children. Now, there is also an app to aid in early detection of retinoblastoma and other serious eye conditions. If you are wondering how to detect eye cancer with a smartphone, this article is for you.

What Is Retinoblastoma?

Retinoblastoma is a rapidly developing cancer that begins in the retina and generally affects children under the age of 5. Despite being the most common malignant eye tumor in children, retinoblastoma is a rare form of cancer with an incidence rate of 1 case in 18,000 to 30,000 live births worldwide.

How To Spot Retinoblastoma

In an ad campaign, Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT), a UK charity for families and individuals affected by retinoblastoma, uses close-up photos of the eyes of retinoblastoma survivors to inform the public that the cancer can be detected simply by taking a photograph.

Posters and ads invite people to enable their camera’s flash and snap a picture of the ad. A reflective ink on the pupil of the children featured in the ads shows one of the symptoms of retinoblastoma: a bright white spot in the pupil where there would normally be “red eye” from the flash.

CHECT Ad 2 of child's eye.
CHECT Ad 1 of child's eye.
CHECT Ad 3 of child's eye.
CHECT Ad 4 of child's eye.

So next time you pop the flash on your camera, check your subjects for red eye (be sure to turn off any red eye removal settings your camera may have). If the typical red spot is only present in one pupil, or if the pupil is white, that could be a sign of retinoblastoma.

Other Signs of Retinoblastoma

White eye isn’t the only sign of retinoblastoma, however. CHECT names 5 other signs and symptoms of retinoblastoma to look out for.

#1. Absence of Red Eye in Flash Photographs

In photographs where only one eye has a red eye and the other looks black or “wrong,” retinoblastoma may be the cause.

#2. A Squint

Often called a lazy eye, this is when one or both eyes look in or out. A squint is not a certain indicator of retinoblastoma, but it is worth ruling out.

#3. Red, Swollen, or Sore Eye Without Infection

If a child’s eye becomes red and inflamed for no apparent reason and doesn’t exhibit infection, get it looked at immediately.

#4. Change in Iris Color

In retinoblastoma, all or part of the colored part of the eye can change in color in an affected eye.

#5. Deteriorating Vision

Because retinoblastoma mainly affects children, a sudden deterioration in vision is not normal and should be investigated. Children with poor vision from birth should also be checked for retinoblastoma and other vision problems.

How Else Can You Use a Smartphone To Detect Eye Cancer in Children?

The CRADLE app (ComputeR Assisted Detector of LEukocoia), developed at Baylor University, searches for traces of abnormal reflections from the retina called leukocoria or “white eye,” a primary symptom of retinoblastoma, as well as other common eye disorders. A white pupil can be a normal photographic effect in pictures (like red eye, but white).

However, white eye can also be a symptom of multiple serious eye diseases, such as retinoblastoma, pediatric cataract, and Coats’ disease (which we cover another unlikely diagnosis story for in our related blog post). These diseases are often first detected by parents who notice white eye in pictures of their children. This app will find pictures on your iPhone or iPad that have white eye and flag them so that you can inspect them for yourself.

How Effective Are Smartphones at Detecting Eye Cancer?

Early research into the use of mobile devices in identifying eye and vision abnormalities is promising. A 2022 study found very encouraging results for both ophthalmologists and other healthcare providers and for parents. While this field of study is still relatively new, advances in technology are making it easier than ever to flag medical issues early.

What To Do If You Suspect Your Child Has Retinoblastoma

If you have concerns about your child’s eyes, contact the eye care specialists at nJoy Vision in Oklahoma City, OK, at (405) 842-6060 or request a consultation with one of our expert eye doctors.

We serve patients of all ages from the greater OKC area, including Edmond, Stillwater, Moore, and Midwest City, OK. We encourage you to book a comprehensive eye exam each year for yourself and your children to ensure that you are staying on top of your optical health.

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