Eye cancer is a term that is often used to describe various types of cancers that can occur in or around the eye. The types of eye cancer can differ greatly in terms of symptoms, causes and treatment options. The good news is that many cases of eye cancer are treatable with early detection and treatment. Understanding the facts about eye cancer can help you know what to look for and may even help save your eyesight.
Cancer in the Eye: What is it?
The eyes are very complex organs that are made up of many different parts. Any part of the eye can potentially develop cancer. When cancer starts in the eye, it is called primary eye cancer. When cancer starts elsewhere in the body and then spreads to the eye, it is called secondary eye cancer or metastatic cancer.
Is Eye Cancer Rare or Common?
While it is true that many types of cancer can affect the eye, cancer that starts in the eye itself is relatively rare. According to the American Cancer Society, only about 2,500 new cases of primary eye cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States. By comparison, an estimated 1.7 million new cases of cancer overall are diagnosed each year.
Types of Eye Cancer
There are several types of cancer that can affect the eye. Here are a few of the most common types:
Melanoma is the most common type of cancer that starts in the eye. It develops in the cells that produce pigment in the eye. Melanoma can develop in the uvea, choroid or iris of the eye.
Lymphoma is a type of cancer that develops in the cells of the immune system. While it can start in other parts of the body, it can also affect the eye. For example, primary intraocular lymphoma arises within the eye itself and is usually found in patients over 60 years of age. The cancer may initially develop within the retina or the vitreous tissue around it.
3. Conjunctival Carcinoma
Conjunctival carcinoma is a rare type of cancer that affects the conjunctiva, the thin layer of tissue that covers the white part of the eye and lines the inside of the eyelid. It is typically caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds.
Symptoms of Eye Cancer
Eye cancer symptoms can vary depending on the type of cancer, where it is located, and how advanced it has become.
Some people with melanoma of the eye may not experience any symptoms, while others may develop floaters or spots in their vision, blurred vision, or distortion in their peripheral vision. In some cases, melanoma of the eye can cause pain or a feeling of pressure in the eye, or it may cause the eye to feel swollen or bulge.
People with lymphoma of the eye may experience blurry vision or have floaters in their vision. They may also develop light sensitivity, red or dry eyes, or experience discomfort or pain in the eye. In some cases, lymphoma of the eye can cause the eye to appear visibly swollen or bulging.
3. Conjunctival Carcinoma
The most common symptom of conjunctival carcinoma is a growth on the eye or eyelid. It may look like a small, raised bump or a flat, reddish patch. Other symptoms may include irritation or watering of the eye, pain, and sensitivity to light.
Diagnosing Eye Cancer
If eye cancer is suspected, it is important to seek medical attention right away. An eye doctor may perform a thorough eye exam, including a dilated eye exam or imaging tests such as ultrasound. An eye doctor may also take a biopsy of any suspicious tissue to test for cancerous cells.
Treatment for Eye Cancer
The treatment for eye cancer will depend on the type and stage of cancer, as well as the patient’s overall health. Some common treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. In some cases, a combination of these treatments may be used to treat eye cancer.
Surgery may be used to remove a tumor or a portion of the eye affected by cancer. In some cases, the eye may need to be removed completely.
2. Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy involves using high-energy beams to target cancer cells. It can be delivered externally, using a machine outside the body, or internally, using small radioactive seeds placed inside the eye.
Chemotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses drugs to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells. It may be given intravenously, orally, or directly into the eye.
Preventing Eye Cancer
While it is not always possible to prevent eye cancer, there are some steps you can take to help protect your eyes and reduce your risk:
- Wear sunglasses that block 99% to 100% of both UVA and UVB radiation.
- Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps.
- Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
- Quit smoking or don’t start if you haven’t already.
- Protect your eyes from occupational hazards such as wood dust or certain chemicals with appropriate eyewear.
- Get routine eye exams to help detect any potential problems early on.
While eye cancer is a serious condition, there are many treatment options available for those who are diagnosed with it. If you have any concerns about your vision or the health of your eyes, it is important to speak with your eye doctor right away. They can perform an exam and help you determine the best course of action. Remember, early detection is key when it comes to treating eye cancer.
Common Questions About Eye Cancer
- Is eye cancer a death sentence?
- Can you survive eye cancer?
- What are the early signs of eye cancer?
- Can you go blind from eye cancer?
- Can eye cancer spread to other parts of the body?
No, not at all. In fact, many people who are diagnosed with eye cancer can be successfully treated and go on to lead healthy lives. However, the outlook will depend on the type and stage of cancer, as well as the patient’s overall health.
Yes, many people who are diagnosed with eye cancer can be successfully treated and go on to lead healthy lives. However, the outlook will depend on the type and stage of cancer, as well as the patient’s overall health.
Some early signs of eye cancer may include floaters or spots in the vision, blurred vision, or distortion in the peripheral vision. In some cases, eye cancer can cause pain, swelling or bulging of the eye.
While it is possible to lose vision or even the entire eye from eye cancer, it is not always the case. Many people with eye cancer are able to maintain their vision with treatment.
Yes, in some cases, eye cancer can spread to other parts of the body. This is known as metastatic cancer. It is important to seek prompt medical attention if you suspect you may have eye cancer.
- American Cancer Society. Eye Cancer. (https://www.cancer.org/cancer/eye-cancer.html)
- National Eye Institute. Eye Cancer. (https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/eye-cancer)
- Mayo Clinic. Eye Cancer. (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/eye-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20372353)