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What are the Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments of Eye Cancer?

Team AckoOct 14, 2022

The eye is an extremely sensitive organ that requires constant care to prevent diseases or injuries. Eye cancer, though uncommon, can be fatal if left untreated. This blog will discuss what eye cancer is, as well as its risk factors, signs, symptoms, and treatment options.

Eye Cancer

Contents

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What Is Eye Cancer?

Cancer refers to abnormal cell growth inside a body part, particularly in cases where cells divide uncontrollably and spread into nearby areas. The most common types of eye cancers are Primary Intraocular Melanoma, Retinoblastoma (which affects the retina), Choroidal Melanoma (which grows on the blood vessels of the eye), and Eyelid Squamous Cell Carcinomas (which develop in the delicate tissue around the eyes). 

Eye cancer symptoms are hard to notice in most cases unless they have reached advanced stages. For this reason, it is important to visit your physician at least once every year to get regular examinations done for early detection.

Types of Eye Cancer

Primary Intraocular Melanoma

This type of cancer occurs when malignant cells form in any of the three parts- Iris, Ciliary body, or Choroid - of the eye's middle layer, called the uvea. It is usually diagnosed during routine eye check-ups. If detected early, this form of cancer has a relatively high survival rate but can still become life-threatening if left untreated. While Primary Intraocular Melanoma usually appears in people aged 50 years and above, children can also develop this cancer.

Secondary Intraocular Cancer

As its name implies, this form of eye cancer develops from another type of cancer that is already present. Although it's not an eye cancer in the true sense since it metastasizes from other body parts,  secondary intraocular cancer is more prevalent than the one mentioned above. Primary intraocular melanomas may grow slowly, while secondary intraocular cancer may quickly spread to other areas of the body.

Retinoblastoma

It affects the retina, the light-sensitive tissue lining the back of the eyeball. When Retinoblastoma develops, it may be visible as a white-coloured spot on the pupil or as a dark area covered with a white haze. Other eye cancer symptoms may include crossed eyes, increased sensitivity to bright lights, blurred vision, and floaters in the eye. Although Retinoblastoma mainly occurs in children, it's important to know that it can also affect adults in some rare cases.

Choroidal Melanoma

This type of tumour arises from the melanocytes or pigment-producing cells of the blood vessels (choroid) that supply oxygenated blood to the eye. They are more likely found in older adults who have experienced cataract surgery. Common symptoms include blurry vision, swelling, and redness of the eye.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

This kind of tumour occurs when cells grow out of control, causing scarring of the eyelids. These tumours are usually painless until they reach advanced stages. Early signs and symptoms of these tumours include redness, itching, or crusting of the skin around the eyes.

Risk Factors For Eye Cancer

There are several risk factors for eye cancer. Some of them are genetic, while others are due to lifestyle choices. The most significant risk factors include:

  • Exposure to ultraviolet rays (sunlight): People who spend long hours outdoors or who work in jobs that expose them to intense sunlight are at greater risk of developing eye cancer than those who don't.  

  • Overexposure to x-rays: Exposure to radiation therapy has been linked to certain types of eye cancer, such as Retinoblastoma.  

  • Long-term exposure to tobacco smoke: Smoking causes DNA damage that increases the likelihood of developing certain types of eye cancer. It is especially dangerous for people who also use other nicotine products like chewing gum or e-cigarettes.  

  • Lack of proper nutrition: Studies have shown that people without adequate fruits and vegetables in their diet are more likely to develop eye cancer. 

  • Age: The risk of developing eye cancer increases with age, especially among older adults who have undergone cataract surgery. Most people diagnosed with eye cancer are above 40 years old.

  • Race: Caucasians are at higher risk than those with other backgrounds.  

  • Prenatal exposure: Pregnant women who are exposed to radiation during pregnancy are at risk of developing eye cancer later in life.  

  • Diabetes: Diabetes can increase the risk of developing eye cancer since it damages blood vessels and nerves in the eyes.  

  • Prolonged exposure tocertain chemicals such as arsenic or benzene smoke: These minerals can cause mutations in DNA, increasing the risk of developing eye cancer.  

  • Family history: People whose close family members have had eye cancer are at higher risk of developing the condition themselves. 

  • Having suffered an injury to the eye: Sometimes, eye injury and trauma can also lead to eye cancer.

Signs And Symptoms Of Eye Cancer

Early-stage eye cancer does not typically exhibit any signs or symptoms until it has progressed significantly. However, there are several warning signs that may indicate the presence of eye cancer. A common sign of eye cancer is a sore or lump near the eyes. Other eye cancer symptoms include:

  • Blurry vision

  • Redness or soreness of the eye and swelling

  • Bulging eyes

  • Retinal detachment

  • Nystagmus (a condition in which patients experience an involuntary movement of their eyes)

  • Loss of peripheral vision

  • Floaters (small particles that appear in the field of vision)

In some cases, people with eye cancer may also experience headaches, nausea, or dizziness.

If you notice any of these symptoms, see your doctor immediately to determine whether or not you may have eye cancer.

Early Diagnosis And Treatment Of Eye Cancer

When a patient comes to a doctor's office with symptoms of eye cancer, he/she should receive a thorough examination to determine whether there is any indication of cancerous cells. Physicians rely on various tests to identify eye cancers, including biopsies and imaging techniques. Once an eye tumour is identified, doctors typically treat it using surgery or radiation therapy. 

There are two main methods used to remove tumours from the eyes surgically: 

  • Surgical removal – When eye cancer spreads outside the eye into nearby tissues, surgeons perform a surgical procedure known as excision. They use a scalpel to cut away the affected tissues and then close up the incisions. In some cases, they may also insert tiny metal screws or titanium rods into the affected area to support the surrounding structures. 

  • Laser therapy – Laser surgery is another method used to remove eye tumours, which involves directing a beam of light at the affected area. This can be done using a fibre-optic tube called a 'YAG laser' or other specialised lasers. Lasers emit heat energy that destroys cancerous cells without damaging the surrounding healthy tissues.

The type of surgery performed, depends largely upon the size and location of the tumour and its stage.

After surgery, patients are required to wear special eye patches until their vision recovers completely. Afterwards, they are prescribed to take medications such as corticosteroids to reduce swelling and inflammation.

In many cases, radiation therapy and chemotherapy are also used to kill off remaining cancerous cells and to increase the chances of recovery. Treatment methods like these aim to give patients a better chance of recovery. However, these procedures often have undesirable side effects. For example, radiation therapy can lead to fatigue and skin sores, while chemotherapy can cause hair loss and nausea.

Tips to Prevent Eye Cancer

Regular visits to your physician are essential in preventing eye cancer. Visit your optometrist or ophthalmologist at least once every year for a thorough examination. Make sure you discuss your family history with them beforehand to ensure the doctor can identify any potential risks.

Some simple yet effective measures you can take to prevent eye cancer include:

  • Getting enough vitamin C and zinc in your diet.

  • Using sunglasses to protect yourself from ultraviolet rays.

  • Avoiding smoking and tobacco products.

  • Limiting alcohol intake to prevent damage to blood vessels.

  • Avoiding injury to the eye

Conclusion

The eyes are an extremely delicate part of the body, and if they're afflicted by malignant tumours, treating or removing them fully through surgery can be tough. It's certainly going to affect the eyesight and leave some permanent damage. However, panicking doesn't help and going to the doctor and undergoing treatment is the only recourse at this stage.

While eye cancer is rare, it can be fatal if left untreated. Knowing the risk factors and signs of eye cancer can significantly improve your chances of early diagnosis and treatment. If you notice any changes in the structure or appearance of your eyes, consult your physician immediately.

There are different types of eye cancers, most of which remain unnoticed until they develop to an advanced stage. A regular visit to the doctor and examination of the eyes can help in early detection.       

FAQs

What causes eye cancer?

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The most common causes of eye cancer are exposure to UV rays from sunlight, X-ray radiation, eye injury, and family history.

Is it contagious?

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No. Eye cancer cannot spread from person to person.

Are there any cures for eye cancer?

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Yes. The treatment can include a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

Can eye cancer come back after treatment?

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Yes. Although surgery can remove most cancers, it is possible for them to regrow later on. The chances of this happening depend on the type of cancer you had before.

Is eye cancer hereditary?

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Eye cancer is not directly inherited, but there might be a tendency to develop the condition through genetics.

References:

  • https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/6134-intraocular-melanoma

  • https://www.cancer.org/cancer/eye-cancer/about/what-is-eye-cancer.html

  • https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/retinoblastoma/symptoms-causes/syc-20351008

  • https://www.msdmanuals.com/en-in/home/eye-disorders/retinal-disorders/cancers-affecting-the-retina

  • https://www.cancer.org/cancer/eye-cancer/about/what-is-eye-cancer.html

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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