A modern child growing up in today’s gadget-filled world is photographed nearly all day long by parents who must capture every precious moment that time would otherwise eat up. Conveniently, a basic camera with a flash can also help spot retinoblastoma, a malignant cancer that, like others, is easier to treat if diagnosed early. Professional screenings for the disease are rare, and it’s been known for a while that “white eye” showing up in flash photos, also known as leukocoria, is indicative of advanced retinoblastoma. Yet, using personal photos hasn’t been seriously considered as a screening option for early detection of the disease.
Bryan F. Shaw, a chemistry and biochemistry professor at Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences, and his wife noticed leukocoria in the photos of his son, which followed with a diagnosis of retinoblastoma. Shaw followed to see whether this could be a systematic way to screen children, and assembled a team that went through 7,000 photos of eighteen kids with and without the disease that were provided by the parents. They discovered that even photos days after birth can show signs of leukocoria that can be indicative of retinoblastoma and that the frequency of white eye is linked to the disease’s progression. Moreover, the visual characteristics of the eye can be measured and turn out to be correlated to the true intensity of leukocoria.
From Baylor’s announcement:
After analyzing his son’s pictures and quantifying the daily occurrence of leukocoria, Shaw was able to determine that “white eye” is not necessarily a symptom of advanced retinoblastoma, but that leukocoria can be a symptom of retinoblastoma in its earliest stages, for example, at 12 days old as in Noah’s case.
Shaw also found “that the intensity of the “white eye” was different in each of his son’s eyes and that the saturation, or measurement of color concentration, was lower in the eye with the larger tumors.” These findings suggest that a digital camera can not only alert parents that their child might have retinoblastoma, but it can also inform a doctor of its severity.
“From our work, we were able to create the first quantitative scale of leukocoria by which to evaluate the intensity of retinoblastoma-linked leukocoria,” Shaw said. “We were able to determine that the frequency of leukocoria can correlate with the clinical severity of retinoblastoma. Leukocoria can emerge in low frequency in early-stage retinoblastoma and increase in frequency during disease progression and decrease during disease remission.”
Study in PLOS ONE: Colorimetric and Longitudinal Analysis of Leukocoria in Recreational Photographs of Children with Retinoblastoma…
Baylor press statement: Parent’s Use of Digital Photography Shown as an Effective Tool in Diagnosis of Retinoblastoma…