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By age 10, retinoblastoma patients’ learning and life skills rebound

Memphis, Tennessee, April 29, 2021

Researcher in red sweater smiles at camera.

Victoria Willard, PhD, of St. Jude Psychology researched child retinoblastoma survivors and found that after five years, they functioned within normal range in learning and life skills. 

Retinoblastoma starts in the retina, the thin membrane at the back of the eye. Most patients are infants or toddlers when their cancer is found. Without treatment, the cancer spreads. Thanks to chemotherapy, surgery and other treatments, 96% of patients survive.

St. Jude researchers studied how survivors fared years later at home and at school. A previous St. Jude study of 98 retinoblastoma survivors found that their early learning and life skills declined from diagnosis to age 5.

Researchers tested 78 of the same survivors five years later. The results were more upbeat. By age 10, almost all the children functioned within the normal range in those areas. That included children who had one eye removed, although they did not make up quite as much ground in the areas of learning, thinking and memory.

“The good news is that as a group the children did improve over time, but not everyone is recovering at the same rate” said Victoria Willard, PhD, of St. Jude Psychology. “The findings show we all need to be aware of factors that put children at risk for difficulties later. It highlights that all young children with retinoblastoma may benefit from early intervention to promote growth and development.”

The Journal of Clinical Oncology published a report on this work.

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