8 Types of Ocular Oncology and When to See a Doctor

8 Types of Ocular Oncology and When to See a Doctor

Cancers that affect the eye are rare. They can arise from within the eye itself, from tissues near the eye, or spread to the eye from cancer in a different part of the body. Because cancers in the eye can cause blindness or invade the brain, they need to be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.

Symptoms of eye cancer may include blurred vision, seeing shadows, flashes of light, or wiggly lines, seeing a dark patch that slowly enlarges, partial or total blindness, a lump in the eyelid that progressively enlarges, pain inside or around the eye, bulging of one eye, or the iris changes color.

These symptoms are more likely to be caused by an injury, infection, or some other illness not related to cancer, but anyone who experiences one or more of these symptoms should promptly consult an eye doctor.

Children who have redness, swelling, or tearing of the eye; develop a white area in the center of the eye; or seem unable to direct where the eye is looking should be examined by a doctor as soon as possible.

1. Melanoma

Melanoma of the eye develops in pigmented cells in the uvea. The uvea consists of a layer of tissue underneath the sclera (the white of the eye) called the choroid, the colored ring visible on the front of the eye (the iris), and the ciliary body, which adjusts the lens to focus light and produces the fluid inside the eye (the aqueous humor). Wearing sunglasses and hats can help prevent melanoma of the eye.

2. Ocular Lymphoma

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a cancer of lymphocytes (a type of blood cell). It usually develops in a lymph node somewhere in the body, but in rare cases, it can develop in the eye. These cases are usually found in people in their 70s or immunosuppressed people. Ocular lymphoma frequently spreads to the brain, which leads to a poor survival rate. Treatment of ocular lymphoma requires the injection of medications directly into the eye.

3. Retinoblastoma

Retinoblastoma is a cancer arising from the retina, which is the layer of cells inside the eyeball that detects light. Retinoblastoma affects children under the age of five and can run in families. Currently, it has a 90% cure rate.

4. Skin Cancer

Squamous cell and basal cell carcinoma are the two most common types of skin cancer. They can form in the skin near the eye. Both types usually develop on the eyelids and manifest as ulcers or lumps. They can, but usually do not, invade the structure of the eye itself. Wearing sunglasses and hats can prevent skin cancer from forming on the eyelids.

5. Lacrimal Gland Cancer

Rarely, a tumor can arise in one of the tear (lacrimal) glands of the eye. Symptoms include pain, a lump in the eyelid, and swelling and bulging of the eye. These tumors are treated with surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation. They can be extremely aggressive and spread to distant parts of the body.

6. Orbital Rhabdomyosarcoma

Rhabdomyosarcoma is a rare cancer of the soft tissues. It usually affects young children and the elderly, and sometimes forms in the soft tissues around the eyeball. It usually manifests as swelling and bulging of the eyeball. These cases are primarily treated with radiation therapy. Unfortunately, this type of eye cancer sometimes spreads to the brain, which has a poor outcome.

7. Medulloepithelioma

Medulloepithelioma is a rare cancer that develops in the ciliary body in children. It grows very slowly and rarely spreads beyond the eye. While not life-threatening, treatment requires the removal of the affected eyeball.

8. Breast, Lung, and Other Cancers

Although rare, other types of cancer that develop elsewhere in the body sometimes spread to the eye. In women, the most common type of cancer that invades the eye is breast cancer. In men, it is lung cancer. If you have been diagnosed with cancer elsewhere in your body and experience changes in your vision, you should talk to your oncologist about the possibility of it spreading to your eye.