Watch Out for Eye Cancer

Recognizing National Cancer Survivors Day, June 5, 2011

Cancer Detection hearing aids

Cancer is a diagnosis that most Americans dread to discuss with their doctors. Fortunately, more than 11 million individuals in the United States have survived this serious disease!

The annual celebration of National Cancer Survivors Day recognizes that life after a cancer diagnosis can be meaningful and productive. It also serves as an excellent reminder that we need to be proactive in learning how this insidious killer can affect different areas of the body, including the eyes.

According to the American Cancer Society, eye cancer is a rare condition that affects about 2,500 Americans annually, attacking the internal or outer parts of the eye. Cancer in the outer areas of the eye, such as the eyelid, is usually classified as skin cancer. When cancer attacks the inside of the eye, it is called intraocular cancer. The primary source of this cancer may be inside the eye or it may be a secondary cancer spread from another site in the body. Usually, secondary intraocular cancer is the most common type of eye cancer.

Intraocular Cancer Types

Eye cancer is usually classified as one of three types:

  • Melanoma – Considered the most common type; develops from pigment-producing cells found in the choroid, which is the blood vessel beneath the retina (the lining of the eye used for seeing); 90 percent of melanomas originate in the skin; at least 84 percent of patients diagnosed with early-stage melanoma survive five years
  • Lymphoma – Originates in the immune cells in the eye; often detected when the disease has already spread to the brain; about 60 percent of individuals with lymphoma survive at least five years
  • Retinoblastoma – Recognized as the most common type of eye cancer in kids; begins in the retina cells in the back of the eye; annually affects about 300 kids in the United States; more than 90 percent of kids with this disease can be cured through early detection and treatment

Symptoms of Eye Cancer

With eye cancer, few individuals experience pain and most symptoms are not identified easily until the disease is in an advanced stage. While eye cancers have different signs, review these common symptoms:

  • Blurred vision or loss of vision
  • Seeing floaters or flashes of light
  • Changes in the size or shape of the pupil
  • Swelling or redness in the eye

Eye doctors acknowledge that some of these symptoms may be unrelated to eye cancer, such as floaters, which are often a normal part of aging. Individuals are encouraged to contact their eye doctor whenever they notice a change in their eyes or vision.

Treatment Options

Eye cancer is usually identified during an eye exam. Using special instruments, the eye doctor will look deep into the eye to detect changes in the tissues and blood vessels. If a tumor is found, additional testing will be required to confirm the diagnosis.

Some people are prone to developing choroidal nevus, a benign tumor in the eye. Since these tumors may turn into a melanoma, regular eye exams are essential to monitor changes in the tumor.

If the presence of an eye tumor is confirmed, the doctor will determine the best treatment solution, including surgery, radiation therapy, freezing or heat therapy, laser therapy or chemotherapy.

Ultimately, the best solution for treating eye cancer is to find it in the earliest stage possible. Scheduling regular, comprehensive eye exams will help you maintain excellent vision and assist your doctor in detecting any changes in your eyes that could result in diseases or cancer.

If you, or someone you know, have been diagnosed with eye cancer, what was the recommended treatment solution? – Karen Gustin, Ameritas Group