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Understanding Eye Tumours: Types, symptoms, causes and treatment

Dr. Ajay KohliNov 21, 2022

The eyes are one of the most valuable human body assets. They are responsible for visual stimuli and the transfer of information to the brain. That is why protecting them is so important. Eye Tumours can affect different structures in the eye resulting in several types of benign or malignant tumours. Because these tumours are located in a sensitive location, their early diagnosis and treatment are essential to avoid unforeseen vision or life-threatening consequences.

Eye Tumours

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What is an Eye Tumour?

An Eye Tumour, also called an ocular tumour, is a mass of cells in any part of the eye that grows and divides uncontrollably. They may be benign or malignant or originate in (primary) or outside of the eye (secondary). In the majority of cases, Eye Tumours are secondary cancers, usually spreading from the lungs, breasts, or prostates and reaching the eyes.

Melanoma, particularly uveal melanoma, is a common malignant adult tumour that typically develops in the pigmented cells around the eyes. Retinoblastoma, on the other hand, is a type common in children that affects the retina, the most light-sensitive tissue. Because both these tumours are aggressive, melanoma can quickly become cancerous.

Signs and symptoms of Eye Tumour

Patients with Eye Tumours rarely exhibit symptoms unless the tumour has grown in certain parts of the eye and is detected during routine eye inspections. But if symptoms develop, they may vary depending on whether the tumour is cancerous or not. For both adults and children, the symptoms visible are contrasting. In adults, the following symptoms of eye cancer include the following.

  • Bulging in one eye, usually without pain

  • Swelling of the eye

  • Seeing flashes of light, or floaters in the vision

  • Growing spot in the iris

  • Blurred vision, haloes, and shadows around images, especially of bright light

  • Change in the size or shape of the pupil

  • Iris discolouration

  • Losing part of your line of vision

  • Redness or burning in the eyes

  • Deviation in the direction your eye moves

While in children, the common symptoms are as follows.

  • Cross eye

  • Whitened pupil

  • Glaucoma

  • Severe pain and redness

What are the causes and risk factors of Eye Tumours?

No one knows for sure why Eye Tumours form, yet scientists have long suspected faulty genes that probably pass on to newborns from birth. An Eye Tumour develops when errors set in the DNA of healthy cells. Such errors accumulate in the cells unless rectified, causing them to grow and divide erratically. However, what triggers these DNA errors are distinct for different types of Eye Tumours.

For benign tumours, triggers usually are as follows.

  • Certain occupations like welding and cooking

  • History of skin cancer

  • Viral infections

  • Ageing

  • Large, pigmented lesions or moles

The link between sunlight exposure and intraocular melanoma is unclear and needs further study.

As for malignant tumours, which are more prevalent after the age of 50, the following suspected triggers appear to increase a person's risk.

  • Blue or green eye colour

  • Fair skin

  • Exorbitant outdoor activities in the sun

  • Gender (males are more vulnerable than females)

  • Certain inherited skin conditions like dysplastic nevus syndrome, BAP1 cancer syndrome, or uveal brown spot (also called oculodermal melanocytosis)

  • Presence of moles and freckles on the eye or skin

  • Mutation in certain regulatory genes (like GNAQ and GNA11 genes)

Types of Eye Tumours

Since most Eye Tumours, despite their rarity, are malignant, they are classified according to the type of cell they originate from.

  • Uveal melanoma: This type of Eye Tumour is aggressive cancer that commonly affects adults. It arises from the pigment cells (melanocytes) of the iris, the ciliary body, or the choroid ,collectively called the uvea, that gives colour to the eye. Melanomas that arise in the choroid are most common; those that originate in the ciliary body are less common, and the ones that occur in the iris are rarest.

  • Choroidal Hemangioma: This rare benign tumour does not spread to other parts of the eye or to a distant location in the body. Furthermore, these tumours are asymptomatic and are usually found during routine eye exams.

  • Retinoblastoma: It's an aggressive malignant Eye Tumour that originates from the immature retinal (light-sensitive) cells and is more likely to affect children under the age of 5.

In exceptionally rare cases, melanoma can also occur on the eyelid or thin lining over the white part of the eye (the conjunctiva).

Treatment for Eye Tumour

Eye Tumours can be treated in various ways depending on their size, type, stage, and the patient's preferences. The main goal is to save vision whenever possible. For tiny, non-spreading freckles and growths, treatment isn't usually indicated, and your doctor may just "wait and watch" them for possible changes. However, a cancerous Eye Tumour requires a quick and planned intervention and depending on your diagnosis; treatment usually involves the following.

  • Surgery (resection or enucleation): This is the most common option for patients with large, spreading tumours that interfere with their vision. And that most patients require prosthetics after surgery for better cosmetic results.

  • Local resection: It involves removing the cancerous portion of the eye, for example, iridectomy, eyelid resection, etc.

  • Radiation therapy: This treatment destroys tumour cells without harming surrounding tissues and is used when surgery does not remove the tumour or when the tumour recurs. Typical options include proton beams or radiation plaques (brachytherapy), which deliver accurate doses, minimising collateral damage. However, vision loss is a problematic adverse effect of this treatment.

  • Laser therapy: This non-invasive procedure destroys the blood vessels that carry nutrients to the tumour cells, causing them to shrink and die. The treatment has fewer side effects than radiation therapy and surgery.

Diagnosis of Eye Tumour

Your doctor may perform these tests along with a physical examination to confirm a tumour diagnosis.

  • Eye exam: Examination of the eye is often the most important first step in diagnosing eye melanoma. The doctor will ask about your symptoms and check your vision and eye movement. They may also look for the sign of a tumour inside the eye using an ophthalmoscope.

  • Imaging tests: If the doctor suspects the tumour is cancerous, imaging tests such as ultrasounds or CT and MRI scans of the head will help create detailed pictures, which will allow your doctor to: 

  1. find out whether cancer has already spread to other nearby organs, especially the brain

  2. determine whether treatment is working

  3. check for signs of cancer returning after treatment

  • Biopsy: A biopsy involves removing a small piece of the tumour and examining it in the lab for cancer cells. It is not only useful to check for certain gene mutations (changes), but it is also useful to choose targeted drugs for cancer treatment.

  • Blood tests: It is usually done after the diagnosis has been made to determine how well your liver is working.

How can I prevent Eye Tumours?

Although several measures are suggested to reduce your risk of skin melanoma, some tips are also effective in reducing the risk of Eye Tumours/cancer. These include the following.

  • Do not expose yourself to intense sunlight

  • Wear protective clothing and a wide-brimmed hat

  • Put on sunglasses that block 100% of UVA and UVB rays

  • Make smart food choices and eat fruits and vegetables. Also, limit your consumption of processed foods, red meat, and alcohol.

  • Take steps to reduce psychological stress that can decrease a tumour's ability to grow and spread

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here’s a list of common questions and their answers related to Eye Tumours.

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What are the warning signs and symptoms of Retinoblastoma in children?

Retinoblastoma is a rare cancer, so its symptoms are also rarely reported. However, if parents want, they can notice for:

  • white discolouration at the centre of the eye

  • redness and swelling of the eye

  • acquired squint

  • watering of the eye

Who is at risk of developing an Eye Tumour?

People between 50 and 70 years of age are at a higher risk of developing Eye Tumours. The condition is even more likely to occur in individuals with atypical moles syndrome, also known as dysplastic nevus syndrome, who often have a higher risk of developing skin cancer, with over 100 moles on their body, some of which are abnormal in size and shape.

What is the prognosis for an ocular tumour?

Despite their rarity, ocular tumours are aggressive cancers. Nearly half of patients with this type of tumour develop metastases within 10 to 15 years of diagnosis, regardless of the advancement in treating primary intraocular melanoma. Still, the good news is if the tumour is detected and treated early, the relative 5-year survival rate is about 85%, according to the American Cancer Society.

Will my Eye Tumour affect my brain?

It is possible. When you have an Eye Tumour, the drop in vision affects your ability to stimulate your brain, causing a decline in your cognitive functions.

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

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