Scots mother’s phone photo revealed child’s cancer

Archie and the telltale 'white' eye which alerted his mother. Picture: Contributed
Archie and the telltale 'white' eye which alerted his mother. Picture: Contributed
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A MOTHER-of-two has told how taking a simple photograph taken on her mobile phone helped to detect a rare form of eye cancer in her infant son.

Michelle Madden noticed her nine-month-old son Archie Tait had a slight squint but initially dismissed it as nothing. However, last year she caught a glimpse of him in a mirror and noticed his left pupil looked clear.

I read both pupils should be red when a photo is taken using flash but when I took a picture of Archie, one of them was clear.

Michelle Madden

The white reflection in his eye was a sign of retinoblastoma (Rb), a rare cancer which forms tumours on the retina of children predominantly under the age of five years.

There are about 50 cases per year in the UK and it represents around 3 per cent of childhood cancers.

Ms Madden, 27, of Cumbernauld, said: “I mentioned it to my partner and my parents but they couldn’t see what I meant so I thought maybe I was just being a paranoid new mum.

“Then I was sat by a mirror one day and when I moved his head a certain way, I noticed the left pupil looked completely clear.”

Ms Madden took her young son to the optician where she first spotted leaflets on Rb but was told to come back a week later.

She said: “I had never even heard of retinoblastoma and I had no idea what it meant.

“I read both pupils should be red when a photo is taken using flash but when I took a picture of Archie, one of them was clear. I knew then that something was wrong.”

Ms Madden went to the doctor the next morning and Archie was referred immediately to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Yorkhill, Glasgow, where they diagnosed him with Rb.

Since then, he has had to undergo a mixture of chemotherapy and laser treatment to reduce the size of the tumour, as Ms Madden and her partner Bryan Tait decided to try to fight to keep his eye.

The couple and their two sons Archie and Aaron, four, spent six months travelling back and forth from the Hospital for Sick Children and the Birmingham Children’s Hospital, as there are no specialist NHS treatment centres in Scotland.

Ms Madden, who works as a part-time beautician, added: “If we hadn’t caught it when we did, he might have lost his eye.

“He can barely see anything but shadows from his left eye, but he might have lost his sight entirely if the cancer had been detected later.”

Archie, now two, is still undergoing treatment but his tumour has been greatly reduced.

The Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (Chect) has launched a new campaign urging people to use their smartphone to check for Rb as part of world retinoblastoma awareness week, which began yesterday.