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Baby Photos Could Reveal Cancer, Study Says

Study says cameras could pick up on cancer
Photograph by Getty Images/Fuse

Apparently, a picture can say even more than a thousand words ... it could be telling you if your kid has cancer. At least, a particular kind of cancer.

Skeptical? Not so fast. According to a new study, all those snapshots you've been taking of your kids could reveal whether they have retinoblastoma, a rare but serious eye cancer.

Believe it or not, researchers found that when a camera's red-eye reduction setting is being used, digital photos can reveal the presence of leukocoria, a syndrome that leads to retinoblastoma. While everything may look just fine in person, photos will show a telltale milky-white haze over the eye that would otherwise go unnoticed.

But here's the most interesting part of this whole discovery: Scientists never would have even done the research had it not been for one determined dad. After his son was diagnosed with the rare tumor, chemistry professor Bryan Shaw teamed up with his son's doctors for further research. Months earlier, Shaw's wife had been poring over family photos of their son Noah when she noticed something strange: While one of his eyes was experiencing "red eye," the other (the one that would later be deemed cancerous, and removed) showed a milkiness that no one had spotted in person. But the photos she was looking at were taken of Noah just days after birth; leading her to wonder if the signs were there all along. The Shaws suspected that it wasn't just a coincidence; their camera was picking up on something the naked eye couldn't.

Researchers went on to examine over 7,000 photos from the Shaws and other families, and discovered that the "milkiness" Noah's photos showed was not just a coincidence. It was found in the photos of many other patients with retinoblastoma, and is caused when light reflects off tumors that are growing in the back of the eye. They also found that the more milkiness an eye displays in a photo, the bigger the tumors.

Experts are hoping the new findings will lead to the development of more cost-efficient screening tools, so that in third-world countries (where access to digital cameras or cell phones isn't as common), experts can detect the cancer earlier. And the impact of that would be huge, considering the survival rate for retinoblastoma is significantly low in developing lands.

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