Blindness in children with neuroblastoma

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Background: Neuroblastoma is the most common extracranial solid tumor among pediatric patients, and orbital metastatic disease is not uncommon in these children. Physical signs as a consequence of orbital metastases, such as proptosis and periorbital ecchymosis, frequently are encountered. However, subsequent blindness is rare.
Methods: A retrospective study was conducted to determine the incidence, related physical findings, treatment, and outcome of children who developed visual loss during treatment for neuroblastoma. Medical records for a 24-year period (1971-1994) were reviewed to identify these patients. The charts, diagnostic imaging studies, and autopsy material of these patients were reviewed.
Results: Of the 450 patients treated for neuroblastoma at the study institution during this period, 47 presented with abnormalities in physical examination of the eye. Eight of these 47 patients and 7 others developed visual loss in at least 1 eye during the first week after diagnosis (n = 5), during primary therapy (n = 6), at recurrence (n 2), or after completion of therapy (n = 2). In ten patients the visual loss was a direct consequence of the primary disease process, whereas a direct relationship between loss of vision and neuroblastoma could not be identified in the remaining five patients. Proptosis and periorbital ecchymosis were the most common associated physical findings. Although ten patients received steroids and eight received radiation, visual loss could not be prevented or reversed in these patients.
Conclusions: Early initiation of effective, multiagent chemotherapy remains the primary approach for the treatment of neuroblastoma and its ophthalmologic complications. Radiation therapy and steroids may have benefit but failed to show good effect in this series. The prevention and treatment of blindness is probably most relevant in infants and children age < 2 years because they have the best chance for cure.


This work was published before the author joined Aga Khan University