Eye cancer can affect any structure of your eyes. It can either start with cancer developing in the tissues surrounding your eyeballs or cancer spreading to the eye from other parts of your body system such as the lungs or breasts. According to research, eye cancer is found in any part of the three major parts of the eyes namely the eyeball (contains the sclera, uvea, and retina), orbit (refers to the tissues and bones surrounding your eyeballs), and adnexal structures (the eyelids and tear glands).
Eye cancer simply has to do with several rare types of cancers that begin in your eye including your eyeball and the structures surrounding your eyeball. It starts when cells multiply out of control and form a tumour.
Symptoms of eye cancer
Eye cancer sometimes doesn’t come with obvious symptoms. This means that you may not experience any symptoms unless there is a tumour growing in the location that interferes with how your eye works. Although, experiencing some of these symptoms doesn’t mean you have eye cancer, however, many eye conditions share symptoms with eye cancer. The most common symptom of eye cancer is painless vision loss. Other problems that may indicate the presence of eye cancer include:
- Blurred vision
- Sudden loss of vision (blindness)
- A growing dark spot on your iris
- Changes in the position of your eyeball
- Changes in the size or shape of your pupil
- Bulging of one eye
- Eye floaters or eye flashes
- A decrease in vision accompanied by pain
- A lump on your eyelid
Other symptoms to look out for in your child or children;
- White colour in the centre of the eye
- Suddenly, the eyes appear to be looking in different directions
- Redness and swelling of the eye
- Excessive tearing
Types of eye cancer
Eye cancer can be categorized based on where the cancer starts, its location in your eye, and the cell types. Below are the types of eye cancer;
- Intraocular melanoma: This is the most common type of eye cancer. It is mainly common among adults. Melanoma forms in the middle part of your eye which affects the eyeball. According to research, melanoma occurs when the pigment-producing cells called melanocytes in your eyes divide and multiply rapidly which results in the production of a tumour.
- Lymphoma: This type of cancer usually occurs in people with weakened immune systems. It is the second most common type in adults older than 50.
- Retinoblastoma: Also known as child cancer because they are most common among children under the age of five.
- Eyelid and orbital cancer: This type of eye cancer forms in the tissues close to your eyeball.
Causes of eye cancer
Eye cancer develops when cells start to divide and multiply excessively, eventually forming a mass known as a tumour, just like cancer in general. This tumour’s fragments have the potential to disperse to your blood and lymph nodes. Through your bloodstream and lymphatic system, the cancer cells can spread to other areas of your body, where they can form new tumours and affect other organs. The term “spread” or “metastasized” is used by medical professionals to describe this condition when it indicates a more advanced form of the disease. The following factors may increase your risk of developing eye cancer;
- Eye colour: If you have light-coloured eyes such as blue, grey, or green, you have a higher risk of developing eye melanoma compared with people who have brown eyes
- Skin colour: If you are white, you’re more likely to get eye cancer. Eye melanoma is also common in people who have pale (fair) skin.
- Age: If you are above 50 years of age, you have a higher risk of developing eye cancer.
- Family history: If you have an immediate family member with a history of eye cancer, it increases your risk of developing it.
- Overexposure to sunlight: It is possible that exposing yourself to UV rays from the sun can increase your risk of skin cancer which can also be a risk factor for eye melanoma.
- Inherited medical conditions: Research suggests that conditions like dysplastic nevus syndrome, an inherited condition that involves having several atypical-looking moles, can increase your risk of some eye cancers or BAP1 cancer syndrome are known risk factors for eye cancer.
Most opticians, do not know the exact cause of eye cancer however, the risk factors are known. It is therefore advised that you improve your eye by getting tested if you do experience any of the symptoms listed before or if you know that you’re in a high-risk group for developing eye cancer. Also, if you have a family history of eye cancer and have a child, it’s a good idea to go for regular eye exams to screen for cancer.
Treatment for eye cancer depends on many factors such as the size and location of the tumour, and whether it has spread to other parts of your eye or other parts of your body. This will enable your doctor to determine the type of eye cancer and the possible treatment options, including the benefits and complications of the treatment. Like all other cancers, eye cancer also, if detected at an early stage, can be treated.
Treatment options include;
- Radiation therapy: One of the most common treatments for eye melanomas. According to research, for treatment, your doctor will implant a tiny disc with radioactive seeds near the tumour to kill the cancerous cells. This treatment is more common because it can preserve your vision as well as your appearance.
- Surgery: Also a common type of treatment option. It is usually for tumours that are small in size and hasn’t spread beyond your eyeball. This type of option also comes with the removal of the eyeball if the tumour is large or you’ve lost your vision which results in replacement with an artificial eyeball that matches your other eye.
- Laser therapy: This type of treatment uses heat to destroy eye cancer. During this procedure, your doctor makes use of infrared light which delivers concentrated heat toward the tumour thereby destroying the cancer cells. It is usually an option for small eye cancer because it can cause bleeding, blockage of eye blood vessels, and the reoccurrence of eye cancer.
- Chemotherapy: It is not a common treatment option for eye cancer such as eye melanomas however, it may be suitable for other types of eye cancer. It is mostly used as a treatment for eye cancer that has spread to other parts of your body.
Treatment aims at conserving the affected eye whenever possible. Some eye cancer can be cured with treatment however in cases where they cannot be treated they can be prevented from spreading and getting worse. You can improve your overall health by:
- Avoid smoking
- Eating balanced diet
- Maintaining a healthy weight
Remember that cancer of the eye is very rare. Eye conditions that aren’t eye cancer can cause many of these symptoms. Once you noticed any of the symptoms, you must report them to your doctor or an optometrist.
A doctor with special training in eye examinations is known as an optometrist. They are in charge of detecting ailments, such as eye cancer, and disorders that damage the eyes. When you need specialized care, they will then recommend an ophthalmologist (eye doctor). The earlier a cancer is detected, the easier it is for you to be treated. The likelihood that the treatment will be effective is increased as a result.
In conclusion, eye cancer can begin in any structure of your eye, so being aware of the symptoms can help you seek medical attention for a diagnosis and treatment. Also, it’s crucial to be aware of how your skin typically looks and to take note of any changes to detect eye cancer early. Be on the lookout for eyelid sores or skin lesions that don’t heal, seem strange, pain, itch, bleed, create crusts, or develop scabs.