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Eye Cancer

What is Eye Cancer?

Eye cancer happens when cells change and grow into tumors that become malignant in various parts of the eye. Eye cancer starts in the eye and can spread to other parts of the body. The most common eye cancer is melanoma, but there are other types of cancer that can affect different kinds of cells in the eye. 

The eye has three major parts:

  • Eyeball (globe): Mainly filled with a jelly-like material called the vitreous humor. It has three main layers - the sclera, the uvea, and the retina.
  • Orbit: Tissues surrounding the eyeball
  • Adnexal: Eyelid and tear glands

What are the types of Eye Cancer?

Different types of cancer can start in each of these areas.

Intraocular cancers affect the eye itself. There are two types. If it starts in the eye, they are called primary intraocular cancers. Secondary intraocular cancers are cancers that spread to the eye from other cancers in the body. 

Examples of primary intraocular cancers are ocular melanoma and Non-Hodgkins lymphoma. These are common among adults. In children, however, the common ones are retinoblastoma and medulloepithelioma. 

Secondary intraocular cancers are more common than primary cancers. They usually refer to cancers from another part of the body that spread to the eye. The most common cancers that spread to the eye are breast and lung cancers. Most often, these cancers spread to the part of the eyeball called the uvea.

What are the symptoms of Eye Cancer?

People with eye cancer often do not have symptoms, but when they do, it could come in the form of a painful vision loss. The condition can be detected during a regular eye examination by ophthalmologists.

People with eye cancer may experience the following symptoms:

  • Bulging of the eye
  • Dark spot on the iris
  • Losing part of the field of vision
  • Seeing flashes of light
  • Seeing spots, squiggly lines, or floating objects (floaters)
  • Trouble seeing

However, some of these symptoms may be caused by a medical condition that is not necessarily cancer. You are advised to see an ophthalmologist for a detailed examination.

How is Eye Cancer diagnosed?

Physical Examination

Eye examination by an ophthalmologist is often an essential first step in diagnosing eye cancer. It is done using an ophthalmoscope and slit lamp, a microscope with a light attached to it. During the examination, the doctor will also ask if you experience any symptoms while checking your vision and eye movement. Other factors considered by your doctors include your age, medical condition, medical history and past test results. For a more detailed examination of the eye to check for a tumor or other abnormality, you will be given eye drops for pupil dilation.

Eye and orbit ultrasound  
This is a test to look at the eye area. It also measures the size and structures. 

Fluorescein angiography 
Helps to provide a detailed picture of the blood vessels in the eye. During the procedure, a fluorescent dye called fluorescein is injected into the patient’s arm. The dye moves through the body and into the blood vessels to the back of the eye; allowing  the doctor to take images. Fluorescein angiography may also be used to rule out eye problems other than cancer.

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