It can show up on pictures: a white spot on the eye as the camera flashes. Retinoblastoma is an eye cancer that strikes kids as young as 1. Treatment often involves chemo that can lead to nausea, hair loss and a weak immune system. But doctors are pioneering a new approach that zeroes in on the cancer without the life-altering side effects.
For Christina Katsouris, play time is practice time. She and her twin sister Alicia dream like any other 7 year-olds.
"She has an electric guitar and I have a piano, and one day we'll maybe be in a band together," Christina told Ivanhoe.But Christina's dreams were interrupted. A routine eye scan picked up retinoblastoma, cancer in her right retina.
"It's shocking," father Andrea Katsouris told Ivanhoe. "You don't believe that it's happening to your child."
Typically treatment means chemotherapy throughout the body for nine months and checking in to the hospital once every month.
"In order to give enough chemotherapy that it gets to the eye, we have to give enough chemotherapy that these kids get very, very sick," Timothy Murray, M.D., professor of ophthalmology at the University of Miami School of Medicine in Miami, Fla., explained.
Christina was one of the first patients to undergo a new type of targeted chemo. Doctors threaded a small catheter from her leg to her eye, and released the chemo directly into the cancer. The procedure is performed once.
"You don't lose your hair," Dr. Murray said. "You don't get sick. You don't have to get treated over and over again."
Christina went home the next day. Now, she's creating her own soundtrack for a healthy childhood.
Doctors follow up on the new chemo treatment with several laser treatments to kill remaining cancer cells if necessary. Since her first chemo treatment, Christina has had one recurrence of cancer in her eye. Doctors treated it with one more round of the targeted chemo, and doctors say she is cancer-free with 20-20 vision.