World Retinoblastoma Awareness Week was observed by the Retinoblastoma team at Sankara Nethralaya between May 8th and May 14th 2022. From arranging a press meet to setting up a white board at the entrance to the MAHYCO block for the young retinoblastoma survivors to place their hand – stamps. The Retinoblastoma team poured their hearts and souls into highlighting this curable childhood cancer, its prevention, and cure, and to spread awareness about this disease to the general public. Over 150 children with childhood eye cancers are treated by Sankara Nethralaya each year – one of the highest treatment rates in the world. This institution is also one of the few eye care facilities in India to specialise in childhood eye cancer (Retinoblastoma). Sankara Nethralaya offers cost-free treatment to the children from disadvantaged backgrounds and does not discriminate on the treatment.
Dr Charanya C, Associate Consultant, Viteoretinal services gave a short introduction, titled “Retinoblastoma – an eye opener,” focusing on the fact that fighting Retinoblastoma in children is a team effort. She explained that familial or heredity contributed to several cases, in which instance, the disease can even be prevented in the womb.
The press meet included a panel of doctors who are involved in treating children with childhood eye cancer, alongside Sankara Nethralaya’s well-experienced retinoblastoma specialists to field the questions from the press. The panel included Dr Veena Noronha, Senior Radiologist; V. R. R Scans; Dr. K. Satish Srinivas and Dr. Christopher John, Radiation Oncology, Ramachandra Medical Centre, Dr Pritam Chatterjee, and Dr. (Prof) S. Krishna Kumar, Chief Scientist, Laboratory Services – Histo Pathology Lab, among others. Dr. Lingam Gopal, Distinguished Senior Consultant and Dr. G. Suganeswari, Senior Consultant, Department of Vitreo Retinal Services were present to moderate and field questions from the press.
The panel of doctors stressed the fact that this disease was not just managed by a single ocular oncologist but many people such as a paediatrician, paediatric oncologist, an anaesthetist, a radiologist, an intervention radiologist. The priority for the Retinoblastoma team at Sankara Nethralaya is to first try and save the life of the children, the second priority is to save the eye and thirdly, save the vision, if possible.
Dr. G. Suganeswari, Senior Consultant, Vitreoretina and Oncology Services, said, “Retinoblastoma is a curable childhood cancer and it is a very common cancer in the childhood period. In India, every year, 2000 children are born with the disease, which means one in eighteen thousand children are born with a retinoblastoma and these children belong to the lower social economic strata.”
The parents find it difficult to afford the expensive and prolonged treatment. The Retinoblastoma team helps these children with the most advanced treatment for different stages of retinoblastoma, from intraocular tumours, to tumours which have already spread away from the eye (extraocular tumours), and tumours which have already spread to the organs- distant metastasis.
A few of the patients and their guardians were also present to tell their stories and contribute towards raising awareness about the disease. Two of the patients had familial retinoblastoma, while the cause of the disease was unknown (sporadic) for one patient. The families of the child survivors were very appreciative of the chance to speak about this disease and how their children were lucky to be treated cost-free as even the middle class families cannot afford the cost of lengthy treatments.
Dr. G. Suganeswari reiterated that the patients she had treated were all bright and had great futures – with the support of their families these cancer survivors could go on to achieve greater things. She also cautioned everyone present that the survivors of childhood eye cancer had to come back for regular follow-ups as they had a chance of developing other cancers later in life.
Sankara Nethralaya is one of the few hospitals where the chemotherapy is an in-house facility to make it easier for the patients to get all treatments under one single roof. Housing a chemotherapy ward involves a lot of commitment from many people and requires collaboration with other fraternity hospitals to manage the child patients.
The gathering was reassured that there were many NGOs and charities who are coming forward to help these child patients get cost-free life and vision saving treatment. The press meet closed on a positive note with the doctors assuring everyone that it was possible to save the life of every child, if timely treatment was given.