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What is Eye Cancer?

By D. Jeffress
Updated May 17, 2024
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Eye cancer is an uncommon but potentially serious type of malignancy. In many cases, tumors in the eye are complications of cancers spreading from elsewhere in the body. Sometimes, however, cancer originates in the blood vessels, pigment cells, or deep inner tissues of the eyeball. Symptoms of eye cancer are not always present in the early stages, but may include dark spots, redness, blurred vision, and possibly blindness in later tumor stages. Early detection and treatment in the form of surgery or chemotherapy are vital in preventing major health complications.

There are many different types of eye cancer. Eye tumors in young children are usually the result of genetic disorders that predispose the retinas to cancer. Tumors called retinoblastomas grow quickly within the retinas and cause pain, irritation, vision problems, and characteristic white spots in the pupils. Adults are more prone to eye melanoma, a cancer of the pigmented or colored cells that can be genetic or acquired. Melanoma may cause similar symptoms to a retinoblastoma as well as create dark or off-colored areas on the iris.

Eye cancer that develops in a blood vessel or along the optic nerve is typically the result of spreading malignancies. People who have undiagnosed or uncontrolled breast, lung, lymph node, or bone marrow cancers are at risk of eye complications. In addition, a person may experience a primary type of skin carcinoma that results in eyelid tumors. Such tumors may be tender to the touch, obstruct vision, and make it difficult to open or close the eyes.

It is essential to visit an ophthalmologist whenever possible symptoms of eye cancer are present. The doctor can review a patient's medical history and perform a detailed eye exam to discover any underlying problems. In some cases, a tiny section of tissue may be scraped from the eye so laboratory tests can either confirm or rule out eye cancer. Additional diagnostic tests may be needed if the doctor suspects that other body parts are involved as well.

Modern surgical techniques, including laser surgery, are highly effective at removing most types of eye tumors. If a tumor is discovered early and has not yet spread from the original site, it can often be excised or burned away. Chemotherapy, radiation, and medications that promote better vision are needed if surgery is not a viable option. Patients who experience major vision loss prior to eye cancer treatment are usually left with permanent deficits, but those who seek early treatment are usually able to make near full recoveries.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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