Doctors Team Up to Battle Retinoblastoma

Oncolog, January 29, 2010 –M.D. Anderson Cancer Center

Although retinoblastoma is the most common primary intraocular tumor in children, only 300-350 children in the United States are diagnosed with the disease each year. “The irony is that there has been so much research on retinoblastoma on the basic science level, but most physicians rarely see a case,” said Dan S. Gombos, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Head and Neck Surgery, Section of Ophthalmology, at M.D. Anderson. Retinoblastoma usually occurs in children 1 or 2 years of age, and both eyes are involved in 30%-40% of patients.

To fight this serious but treatable cancer, the Children’s Cancer Hospital at The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center has joined Texas Children’s Cancer Center, Baylor College of Medicine, and The Methodist Hospital Research Institute in a collaborative effort called the Retinoblastoma Center of Houston. “There’s been nothing like the collaboration between these four institutions. They’ve come together in a spectacular way,” said Dr. Gombos, one of the clinical co-directors of the Retinoblastoma Center.

The advantages of this alliance include a shared tumor board that reviews patients from M.D. Anderson and Texas Children’s Cancer Center (which serves as the two clinical sites) and a dedicated ocular pathologist who specializes in retinoblastoma. The Methodist Hospital houses a shared pathology and tissue bank, and Baylor College of Medicine and M.D. Anderson offer genetic testing and counseling for patients and their families.

“Retinoblastoma often requires the removal of one or both eyes, so our treatment priorities are saving the child’s life, saving the child’s eye, and saving the child’s vision,” Dr. Gombos said. Because radiation therapy confers a risk of developing a second tumor, chemotherapy is usually preferred as the first-line treatment for retinoblastoma and radiation therapy is used as a salvage approach. M.D. Anderson is one of the few centers in the United States that offer proton therapy for retinoblastoma, which exposes the child to less radiation than other radiation therapy modalities because the beam is much more focused.

Although only in its first year of existence, the Retinoblastoma Center is already conducting research and participating in clinical trials, including one involving gene therapy for retinoblastoma. “There are people in the Texas Medical Center who have dedicated their lives to fighting this disease,” Dr. Gombos said, “and this institution brings them together.”

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