Eye Cancer

What is eye cancer?

Eye cancer describes many types of tumors that form in, or spread into, the eye. The risk for most eye cancers increases with age and is slightly more common in men. Retinoblastoma is most commonly found in children.

The American Cancer Society estimates 3,540 new cancers (mainly melanomas) of the eye and orbit will be diagnosed in the United States in 2018.

What are the different types of eye cancer?

There are two types of primary intraocular cancer (cancers in the eye):

  • Eye melanoma is the most common primary intraocular cancer. It usually develops in a part of the eye called the uvea.
  • Eye lymphoma usually starts in lymph nodes scattered throughout the body, though lymphomas can also start in organs such as the stomach, breast, and lungs.

Orbital and adnexal cancers form in the tissue around the eye, including muscles, nerves, and skin.

What are the symptoms of eye cancer?

Many people with eye melanoma don’t experience symptoms until the cancer reaches an advanced stage. Eye melanoma symptoms include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Sudden loss of vision
  • Spots in the field of vision (called floaters)
  • Flashes of light
  • A dark spot on the iris
  • A change in the size or shape of the pupil
  • Bulging of the eye

Eye lymphoma symptoms include:

  • Blurry vision
  • Loss of vision
  • Spots in the field of vision (called floaters)
  • Redness or swelling
  • Light sensitivity
  • Pain

Many eye cancer symptoms can be signs of less serious conditions, but it’s important to tell your doctor about any new or painful vision problems.

What are the causes and risk factors of eye cancer?

The exact cause of eye cancer is unknown, but scientists are learning more about DNA and cancerous cells. Several risk factors have been linked to eye cancer; however, many people with the disease may experience no known risk factors.

Eye melanoma risk factors

  • Race/ethnicity (highest in Caucasians)
  • Age (risk increases with age)
  • Gender (slightly more common in men than in women)
  • Eye color (light-colored eyes are more likely to develop melanomas)
  • Inherited conditions (including many abnormal moles on the skin, abnormal brown spots on the uvea, and BAP1 cancer syndrome)

Eye lymphoma risk factors

A weakened immune system is the only known risk factor for eye lymphoma. People with AIDS and those who have undergone organ or tissue transplants and require anti-rejection drugs have an increased risk for developing eye lymphoma.

How is eye cancer diagnosed and treated?

An eye examination is the most important step in diagnosing eye cancer. Your ophthalmologist will check your vision and eye movement, as well as examine your eye for tumors, abnormalities, and enlarged blood vessels.

In addition to an eye exam, you doctor may perform the following procedures to confirm an eye cancer diagnosis:

  • Imaging tests (including an ultrasound, chest x-ray, CT scan, PET scan, or MRI)
  • Biopsy
  • Blood tests

If your doctor suspects you have eye lymphoma, he or she may also do a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to determine if the cancer has affected the brain or spinal cord. Depending on the type and stage of eye cancer, treatment options can include surgery, radiation therapy, laser therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. Often, doctors use more than one treatment.

Eye Cancer Treatment at Baptist Cancer Center

Patients obtain eye cancer treatment at the Baptist Cancer Center’s Head and Neck Center. Each patient receives the undivided focus of a team of physicians and scientists. This team may include medical oncologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists, neuroradiologists, and plastic surgeons. They are joined by dentists, nurses, speech pathologists, audiologists, nutritionists, psychologists and social workers with special training in head and neck cancers.

Working together, Whenever possible, Baptist doctors and specialists take careful steps to preserve your vision during treatment.

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