New Insight Into Children's Eye Cancer

Scientists identify specific eye cells linked to retinoblastoma

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WEDNESDAY, June 16, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Specific cells in the eye that develop into retinoblastoma - the most common eye cancer in young children - have been identified by Toronto Western Hospital scientists.

The discovery may help in the development of targeted treatment for eye tumors. According to the American Cancer Society, about 250 US children are affected by retinoblastomas each year.

The research, published in the June issue of the journal Cancer Cell, suggests that these particular eye cells already have cancer-like properties. This explains why retinoblastoma occurs in children while other types of cancers such as lung and colon cancer occur in adults, the researchers said.

"From the first cancerous cell to the malignant tumor, there are a chain of events that must occur for a person to develop cancer, which must overcome each one of the body's natural protective barriers that guard against tumor growth," according to the study's lead author, Dr. Rod Bremner, a senior scientist in the division of cell and molecular biology at Toronto Western Research Institute.

"For a number of years, it's been known that retinoblastoma develops more quickly and with fewer numbers of events than typical adult cancers but, until now, it wasn't clear why," Bremner said in a prepared statement.

He and his colleagues found that the genetic mutation associated with retinoblastoma eliminates some of the body's protective barriers at the cellular level. As a result, specific retinal cells become predisposed to developing into tumors.

Key to this development is the fact that these kinds of retinal cells already have tumor-like properties, such as the ability to bypass cell death. According to Bremner, this means they don't automatically self-destruct when they begin dividing uncontrollably. Cancerous retinal cells might therefore pass as 'normal,' evading the body's defenses.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about retinoblastoma.

SOURCE: University of Toronto, news release, June 14, 2004

- Robert Preidt

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