Retinoblastoma Treatment Options

Most children with retinoblastoma can be successfully treated. The type of treatment depends on the extent of the disease within the eye, whether the disease is in one or both eyes, and whether the disease has spread beyond the eye.

At Stanford Children’s Health, our focus is on saving lives and vision. We always try to save your child's eye and vision as long as we can also deliver effective treatment to kill the cancer. Treatments are tailored for your child after careful discussion and coordination with a pediatric eye cancer specialist and a pediatric oncologist. Often multiple, different treatments will be needed over several years, depending on the extent and severity of your child’s specific cancer.

Chemotherapy, special medications used to attack and destroy the cancer cells, is the most common retinoblastoma treatment. Chemotherapy for eye cancer can be delivered in several ways. The most common delivery method is systemic chemotherapy, where specialized medications are delivered to the entire body. Typically, the treatment is for both eyes, but sometimes it can be for advanced disease in just one eye. In rare cases, our pediatric eye cancer specialists can deliver tiny quantities of chemotherapy directly into the eyeball to treat tumor cells that cannot be reached by systemic chemotherapy alone.

Intra-arterial chemotherapy

We use the newest form of retinoblastoma treatment called intra-arterial chemotherapy. This method delivers chemotherapy directly to the eye through the small arteries that feed the eyes. Intra-arterial chemotherapy allows the doctor to treat the exact area of the tumor with a higher concentration of the chemotherapy drugs while using a lower dosage than would be required for systemic chemotherapy.

Stanford Children’s Health was one of the first centers to offer this innovative life- and eye-saving therapy. Delivering injections into the tiny ocular arterial structures of pediatric patients takes exceptional precision, but our neurointerventional radiologists have mastered the advanced catheterization techniques and gentle delivery it takes to treat tiny, delicate eyes.

Other treatment options

Smaller tumors are typically treated with laser treatment or freezing treatment. Radiation therapy may also be used to treat larger tumors. Often, these treatments are used alongside chemotherapy. Rarely, in very advanced cases of retinoblastoma, enucleation surgery is required to remove the eye and save the patient’s life.

The course of retinoblastoma treatment we recommend always comes from a panel of doctors. The panel discusses your child's case and reviews the risks, benefits and potential outcomes of each treatment option with your family in an easy-to-understand way. We value your family as an important part of the treatment journey and strive to make the care experience as seamless as possible. Learn more about the resources available to your child and family.

Your child may also be eligible for a clinical trial. Clinical trials are designed to test new treatments and find better ways to treat children with cancer. We have several retinoblastoma clinical trials at any given time and we continue to try new drugs in novel combinations to improve the odds that a tumor will be killed while saving the eye and vision. To learn more about our clinical trials and other research, visit the Department of Ophthalmology’s website.