Woman Looks at Baby Photo and Sees Cancer from 4,000 Miles Away

By Andrew Moseman | August 27, 2008 5:19 pm

RetinoA British woman correctly identified a baby’s eye cancer from 4,300 miles away, all because of some white-eye.

Madeleine Robb, a woman from Manchester, U.K., had been exchanging baby pics with another new mom, Megan Santos from Florida, after the two became friends online. But what Robb saw in the picture alarmed her: Santos’ daughter Rowan had a white glare in her eye, similar to the red glare people often have in photographs. But the white version can be a warning sign for retinoblastoma, a rare kind of eye cancer in kids under 5.

After Robb warned her about the condition, Santos rushed one-year-old Rowan to the hospital, where a doctor confirmed she had the disease. Unfortunately, the baby will lose that eye. But if Robb hadn’t seen the warning sign early, the cancer could’ve killed her.

That white glow, called leukocoria, is really just the absence of the normal red glow, which comes from blood vessels in the layers of the eye behind the retina. When a tumor is present, it can deflect the camera flash’s light out of the eye, which creates the white glow. Not every white eye-glow in a photograph is a sign of retinoblastoma—it’s a rare disease that shows up in only about 300 American kids every year. But if you see it in a photo of a child, experts recommend you get it checked out.

Interestingly, new technology to reduce the red-eye effect in photos will actually make it more difficult to pick out this strange warning sign of retinoblastoma. So if you have a small child, perhaps you should keep an old camera around in order to play Dr. House at home.

Image: National Cancer Institute

MORE ABOUT: children's health
  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Cherish

    This was a very facinating article. I have never seen anything like it.

  • christel

    I am so glad that they caught this… it’s sad the baby will lose her eye. .. but at last she’ll live

  • Tonya

    For anyone that has dealt with this:
    I have one picture of my son when he was 4 1/2 months (now 6 months) that has that glow in one eye only. It has only shown up in that one photo taken at Christmas and has never shown up in any other of the hundreds of pictures I have taken of him (since then or before then). If this is just in one picture, is it most likely a flash glare or something that should be checked out?

  • kelli

    I had seen, “the glow” in my son’s eye before and thought it was nothing, I WAS WRONG! My son did not have retinoblastoma (the doctors thought he did at first), but he DID have something even more rare than Retinoblastoma, he had Coat’s Disease. My son also had to have his left eye removed from this disease. This was a year and a half ago, he now has a prostethic and his a happy little boy, but it was all very tramatic. If you see ANY glow in your child’s picture, take them immediately to the eye doctor and demand to have their eye’s dialated and examined! No matter how crazy they think you are, it could be nothing, but it could be something and you would rather be safe than sorry. The eye is very close to the brain…

  • Kmcd3

    I have seen this glow in my Nephew’s photo and he is 25.  No one else in the photo has this white eye glow.  I’m very very concerned, however, due to his age “25” is he free from retinoblastoma?   Sincerely Kim


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