Mums-to-be can now get life-saving test that could save years of heartache

EXPECTING mums will be able to get an NHS test that detects a rare form of cancer in babies.

Retinoblastoma, an eye cancer, is diagnosed in 40 to 50 children and babies every year in the UK, charities say.

The NHS claims the new test for pregnant women will likely to identify around 50 cases of retinoblastoma each year in England, before the affected baby has been born.

If it is picked up early, the condition can often be successfully treated.

More than nine out of 10 children with retinoblastoma are cured.

However, if the cancer goes undetected, this can lead to the loss of one or both eyes, and even death.

NHS Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard said the "pioneering new test has the potential to save hundreds of lives over the coming years".

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She said: “Cancer is such a terrible illness and a baby being born with it can have a huge impact on parents and families during what should be an incredibly happy time."

The eyes are one of the first things to develop in the womb. 

Retinoblastoma develops in the cells of the retina, the light sensitive lining of the eye. 

The new non-invasive NHS test was developed at Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust and wll be rolled out this week.

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It involves the mum giving a blood sample before birth, which is then analysed for genetic mutations.

The test looks for a mutation in the RB1 gene, which almost always means a child will go on to develop retinoblastoma.

The test is almost 100 per cent accurate, the NHS says. 

Treatment can start on the affected eye as soon as the baby is born, with doctors closely monitoring the other eye for any signs. 

The test will be offered to pregnant women with a known family history of the disease, because around half of children with retinoblastoma have the heritable form.  

Siani Bainbridge, 22, from County Durham, had retinoblastoma as a child and feared her infant son Oscar might also carry the faulty gene.

She took part in the trial of the test and discovered Oscar had retinoblastoma.

She said: “Given that the tumours were quite severe when he was born, the fact he could be treated straight away definitely affected his outcome. It was nice to know the day he was diagnosed, it was ready, set go.”

Just a week after his birth, Oscar started cancer treatment, which involved chemotherapy and then laser therapy.

While doctors could not save the sight in one eye, he did not have his eyeball removed, and kept his sight in the other eye.

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In children, one of the key signs of retinoblastoma is an unusual, white reflection in the pupil of the eye.

It can look like a cat’s eye that is reflecting light and may be visible in photographs.

How retinoblastoma develops

The eyes are one of the first things to develop in the womb.

In the very early stages the eyes have cells called retinoblasts that grow very fast, explains Cancer Research UK.

Later, they stop growing and develop into mature retinal cells that can detect light (the role of the retina).

But sometimes, they do not stop growing or mature.

Instead, they grow out of control and develop into a cancerous tumour called retinoblastoma.

If the tumour is not treated, the cells continue to grow and the cancer fills most of the eyeball.

Most retinoblastomas are found early and successfully treated before they spread outside the eyeball.

If they do spread, they can go to anywhere in the body including the brain, bones and lymph nodes Open a glossary item. They can be difficult to treat once they have spread.

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