Tanzania: Medics Warn of Eye Cancer

MEDICAL experts in the country have raised considerable concern over raising cases of retinoblastoma, an eye cancer that develops in early childhood.

Thus, they call on parents and guardians to be aware of its early signs and take their children to hospital since the disease is curable.

According to health experts, although retinoblastoma is a rare form of eye cancer in children, several cases are being reported to the country's national hospital.

An eye specialist and lecturer at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (MUHAS), Dr Anna Sanyiwa, said the disease affects children, who are taken to hospital when the disease has already advanced.

"Although not well known to members of the public, this disease has been there for a long time... we are trying to educate members of the public so that parents can know its early signs and take their children to hospital," she said.

Dr Sanyiwa noted that retinoblastoma was the second among all other diseases reported at MNH and there were 15 patients at MNH children's ward.

She said according to statistics in every 15,000 live births there was one child with retinoblastoma, which meant that between 100 and 130 cases were being reported every year in the country.

Dr Sanyiwa noted that at MNH alone between 60 and 80 cases of retinoblastoma were reported annually. She said the disease was curable only if the child would be taken to hospital after showing early signs.

"I call upon parents to be aware of the early signs of the disease such as white reflex (leukocoria) and a strabismus (squint) and take children to medical specialists for checkup," she said, adding: "When a child has a cloudy white pupil or strabismus, which is not normal he or she should be taken to hospital for checkup.

This disease can be treated if it is diagnosed as early as possible," she noted.

For her part, an eye specialist at MNH, Dr Judith Mwende, said the hospital organised eye screening for all children from zero month to five years to detect various complications because it was not easy for parents to just recognise the disease.

Dr Mwende said the screening had been organised as part of the commemoration of World Retinoblastoma Week aimed at raising public awareness about eye cancer in children.

She noted that some of the symptoms resembled those of eye complications, thus when parents were well informed about the disease it would be easier for them to take their children to hospital.

One of the parents, who brought her child for screening at MNH Mloganzila, Ms Leila Mapez, said that she was neither aware of the disease nor its early signs.

"I heard about an eye screening camp through the media and I decided to bring my child for diagnosis," she said. World Retinoblastoma Week is commemorated to raise global awareness about eye cancer that affects children.

According to World Eye Cancer Hope (WECH), retinoblastoma is a fast growing eye cancer that affects small children. "Early diagnosis is vital to save children's life and sight, but small children cannot tell parents their sight is changing, and the signs of vision loss in them can be subtle."

WECH says "a white glow in a child's eye, seen in flash photos or dim light, is the most common early sign of this cancer.

Ninety per cent of children are diagnosed because a parent sees this sign, but the time delay between first seeing the sign and seeking medical help is often several months or more."

WECH further says that 96 per cent of children are cured today in the developed world, but many lose one or both eyes or suffer significant vision loss due to late diagnosis.

"Curative treatment often has lifelong physical and psychosocial impacts on young children.

Ninety per cent of children with eye cancer live in less economically developed countries, and most are diagnosed too late to save their lives."

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