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Signs and symptoms

Worried you have seen a sign of retinoblastoma?

Retinoblastoma is a rare type of eye cancer which mainly affects children under 5 years of age. Spotting one of the signs or symptoms of retinoblastoma, such as a white eye in a photo, can be a scary for any parent or relative, but finding out about what to do next can help to ensure any symptoms are checked out quickly.

Retinoblastoma is very rare; only about 40 children are diagnosed with the condition each year in the UK. It is also very treatable, especially if caught early. Around 98% of children are successfully treated.

The signs of retinoblastoma, such as a white reflection in the eye or white pupil, or a squint, as described below, can also be caused by other less severe conditions and can sometimes be a complete false alarm and not be anything at all. Although this may be the case it is always best to have a child's eyes checked just to rule out any serious illness.

The most important thing to do if you see any of the symptoms is to get your child's eyes examined quickly.


The signs to look out for

A white reflex: A white eye, white pupil or white reflection can be seen in a photograph where the flash has been used. Often one eye will have "red eye" which is normal but the other eye may look white, yellow or orange. This may be seen in just one or many photographs of the child.

A white 'reflex' or white eye/pupil may also be seen when the child is in artificial light or a darkish room. Some parents say that it looks like a cat's eye caught in light or that they think they can see the back of their child's eye, other parents say it looks like jelly. This white reflex may only be seen every so often but in some cases it is present all the time.

White eye reflex


An absence of "red eye" in flash photographs: In a photograph where one eye has "red eye" (which is normal) the other eye may look black or looks "wrong". This can also be a sign that something is not right.

Absence of red eye


A squint: A squint can be a sign of retinoblastoma, although a squint can also be nothing more than a squint. It is always worth having it checked out quickly just to make sure. Some people call a squint a "lazy eye"; it is where one or both eyes look in or out.

A squint


Red, sore or swollen eye without infection: A child's eye may become very red and inflamed for no reason. This sign is usually linked with other signs.

Sore/swollen eye without infection


A change in colour to the iris: The iris, the coloured part of the eye, can sometimes change colour in one eye, sometimes only in one area.

Iris colour change


Deterioration in vision: A child may have deterioration in their vision or they may have had poor vision from birth. You may notice that your child does not focus or fix & follow as well as other children or babies of the same age.

If you have noticed one or more of the signs above always take your child to have their eyes examined.

Download our awareness leaflet

The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust has published an awareness-raising leaflet with all the signs and symptoms displayed on it. You can download a copy of that leaflet here.

What retinoblastoma could look like

Examine these images to see the different ways in which retinoblastoma can present itself.

Who to see

Advice on who to turn to if you think you have noticed the signs or symptoms of retinoblastoma in a child’s eye(s).

What might happen next

A brief account of what will happen next if your child is referred for further examination.