Lack of photo 'red eye' can be early cancer warning

WACO, TX (CBS/KWTX) -- A new study completed by a Baylor Chemistry professor and Harvard Medical School researchers finds digital photos can help detect Retinoblastoma, a rare eye cancer found primarily in children, in its earliest stages.

If not treated quickly, Retinoblastoma can lead to vision loss. Many children diagnosed with the disease may face losing one or both of their eyes.

Dr. Bryan Shaw, a Bioanalytical chemist and Baylor professor, spearheaded the study after his first-born son Noah was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma after birth.

Shaw's wife noticed in Noah's digital baby pictures that one of his eyes didn't show a traditional "red eye," but instead had a "white eye."

After seeing an ophthalmologist, it was confirmed that Noah had Retinoblastoma.

At that point, Shaw feared the unknown. "When you find out your son has cancer, you know what lies ahead. You know what they're going to be going through and it's not fun," Shaw said.

"There's a whole range of concerns I had like will he survive, will he have vision, and will he have a normal life?"

After undergoing chemotherapy, Noah eventually lost his eye. Yet, his photos fueled a growing idea within Shaw.

"Anecdotally, not many have really looked at photos like this to see if we can better the diagnosis efforts for Retinoblastoma," Shaw said.

Shaw and his team researched thousands of photos of nine children with Retinoblastoma, including Noah's, and 19 other children who didn't have the disease.

"We were surprisingly pleased with how large our data set was. In this day and age digital photos are plentiful," Shaw said.

The study conclusively found that "white eye" in baby photos can be an early symptom of Retinoblastoma.

"White eye" has commonly been assumed to be a sign of advanced Retinoblastoma.

Shaw says the largest find of the study shows that "white eye" can be a sign of Retinoblastoma's earliest stages.

Noah's "white eye" started showing up when he was 12-days-old.

The study itself could open doors for future picture software that specifically detects Retinoblastoma in children.

Less than 300 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with Retinoblastoma per year according to the American Cancer Society.

Shaw says if the study can raise awareness and save even one child from pain, than it will have served its purpose. Shaw said, "When Noah grows up, it's my hope that he can look back on this period and realize the bad stuff that happened to him helped other people."


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