Eye Cancer: What You Need to Know

Close up of eye

Did you know that eye cancer is the only life-threatening ocular disease? According to American Cancer Society, 80% of persons diagnosed with ocular tumors and receive early treatment survive. This healthy vision month, we provide in-depth information on eye cancer.

In 2016, the American Cancer Society projected 3,130 cases of eye cancer to occur in 2017 in the United States. Also, they estimated that 330 people would die from related cancers. The condition is rare but can occur at any age and is more likely to affect seniors.

What are the symptoms of eye cancer?

Eye cancer is believed to start in the eye’s middle layer. This is the vision area that holds your blood vessels. Symptoms include:

  • Light flashes
  • Floating black spots
  • Loss of eyesight
  • Eye displacement
  • Watery eyes
  • Poor vision and loss of peripheral vision

In most cases, the tumor alters the shape and size of your pupil. In others, the tumor develops in your iris and on the conjunctiva- a moist membrane that covers the eye.

What are eye cancer risk factors?

Little is known about the exact cause of eye cancer. However, like skin cancer, studies show that people with red or blonde hair, fair skin, and light-colored eyes may stand a higher chance. If you have atypical mole syndrome, your risks of getting skin melanoma, and by extension, eye melanoma may be higher than others. The syndrome causes the development of about 100 abnormally shaped moles in the body. Researchers are working round the clock to confirm whether parents with this syndrome can pass it to their children or not. Risk factors increase if you are more exposed to natural or artificial UV rays. The odds also increase with an eye injury.

Is eye cancer preventable?

Occupational hazards are the most common contributors to eye cancer. If you work in a chemical plant or a welding facility, always use sunglasses to protect your eyes. Fishermen, farmers, and laundry workers are also at high risk. Just like skin melanoma, you can prevent eye cancer by avoiding exposure to direct sunlight.

Use UV protected sunglasses that wrap around the eye. Invest in sunglasses that block 99% to 100% ultraviolet rays. Eye problems such as eye injury must be treated quickly to prevent cancer. Eating vitamin-rich diets is another prevention method.

How is eye cancer diagnosed?

Early screening is the key to diagnosing and treating eye cancer. Doctors can notice symptoms during a routine eye exam. Tumors may cause your eyes to leak fluid or make the affected area darker than other regions. If such symptoms are noticed, your eye doctor may request an ultrasound to get detailed images of the area.

Another vision care test that doctors use is fluorescein angiography. The ophthalmologist puts a dye into your bloodstream through a blood vessel in your arm. As it goes into your eyes, a special camera takes images of your eyes internally. This method helps establish blockage or tiny leaks. The specialist may take a small sample of the tissue and examine it further under a microscope.

What are the stages of Eye cancer?

  • Stage 1: the tumor is small (less than 3 mm), does not involve other parts of the eye, nor has it spread to others body parts.
  • Stage 2: tumor size slightly larger than stage 1 and may not have spread to other parts of the eye or body.
  • Stage 3: tumor size is large and has spread to other parts of the eye.
  • Stage 4: cancer has spread to other parts of the body and is said to have metastasized.

How is eye cancer treated?

Doctors may not always proceed with treatment in case of a small tumor. Instead, they schedule regular checks to get details on the tumor to prescribe treatment.

Radiation is one of the most common treatments for eye melanoma. This surgical procedure places a shield to hold radioactive seeds over the suspected tumor outside your eye. It stays there for four days to knock the tumor with radioactive elements. Most people don’t experience discomfort during the process.

To prevent cancer from spreading to other parts of the eye, lasers with infrared light are used to seal nearby blood vessels from contracting it. Using low power, a laser beam is sent to hit the tumor without affecting the eye. This is the most common treatment for eye cancer affecting the pupil.

If it is determined that your eye cancer is in the iris, the ophthalmologist may recommend surgery. It is the most extreme type of treatment, as it involves taking out the affected part of the eye.

Not taking chances is the surest way of staying safe from eye cancer. Speak to an ophthalmologist whenever you notice any anomaly with your vision.


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