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Eye cancer is a rare form of cancer that causes cells in the eyes to multiply and grow abnormally. The most common form of eye cancer is called uveal melanoma, and it develops in the middle layer of the eye, in the iris, choroid, or ciliary body.
Uveal or ocular melanoma grows from the same pigmented cells that skin cancer melanoma grows from, but unlike skin cancer, it is unrelated to sun exposure. Uveal or ocular melanoma is a slow-growing cancer and is often not diagnosed immediately because, in its early stages, it resembles the benign or non-cancerous condition called “nevi”, having moles or spots on the eye.
There are two types of uveal or ocular melanoma. Choroidal is the most common and arises from the blood vessel layer or choroid. Iris melanoma accounts for only 5% of all ocular melanomas and begins in the iris. It typically grows from nevi or moles on the eye. Both types of ocular cancer show few, if any, symptoms.
Rarer types of eye cancer include lymphoma of the eye, retinoblastoma, and medulloepithelioma. Retinoblastoma and medulloepithelioma are often found in children.
Eye Cancer Facts and Statistics
- In 2015, there will be an estimated 2,580 new cases of eye cancers, 1,360 in men and 1,220 in women.
- There will be an estimated 270 deaths from eye cancer in 2015, 140 in men and 130 in women
- Though eye cancer can occur at any age, it is more common in people over the age of 50.
- Most eye cancer cases are the result of cancer spread from other parts of the body.
- Uveal or ocular melanoma is the most common type of eye cancer, and it account for about 5% of all melanoma cases (most start in the skin).
- Nearly 50% of all uveal or ocular melanoma cases will metastasize or spread within 15 years after a diagnosis.
- The five-year survival rate for choroidal melanoma is 84% if found when the tumor small. Once the tumor is categorized as “large” the five-year survival rate decreases to 47%.
- The five-year survival rate for iris melanoma is about 97% and remains at that number because this type of eye cancer is not likely to metastasize or spread.
Symptoms and Risk Factors
Eye cancer is rare. So your family doctor will probably not be too concerned about this condition. But, it is important for doctors to understand the risk factors of eye cancer so that proper screening and consultation can occur.
The risk factors of eye cancer are:
- Being over the age of 50—while advancing age increases the likelihood of cancer, the incidence rate per age group peaks at 70 and then begins to decrease again
- Being male—men have a slightly higher risk of eye cancer.
- Having a personal or family medical history of eye cancer or other eye conditions like nevi (moles on the eyes), or ocular melanocytosis (pigmentation defect in or around the eye).
- Having light-colored or blue eyes.
- Dysplastic naevus syndrome which causes an unusual amount of benign moles to grow all over the body.
Since this cancer is so rare, doctors only recommend additional screenings for patients with an increased risk. Eye cancer is usually found through routine eye exams with your optometrist. Symptoms of eye cancer include:
- Change in vision including loss of vision, increasingly blurry vision, seeing flashes, spots, and floaters or other objects in the field of vision, or losing part of the field of vision.
- Change in pigmentation in or around the eye.
- Dark spot on the iris.
- Change in the shape or size of the iris.
- Change in the movement ability of the eye.
- Growth of a bump or lesion on the eyelid.
- Ocular pain.
Diagnosing Eye Cancer
Most cases of eye cancer will be diagnosed through regular check-ups with the optometrist who might notice new spots on the eye or note a change in shape of the eye.
If doctors suspect a tumor, they may order an ultrasound of the eye to map out any unusual growths. Doctors may also order further imaging tests like an MRI or CT scan, or they may order a biopsy. , or tissue sample, of a part of the eye.
The Collaborative Ocular Melanoma Study (COMS) group uses The American Joint Committee on Cancer’s (AJCC) TNM staging system. That system is:
- T describes the size of the main (primary) tumor and/or whether it has invaded into nearby structures.
- N describes whether the cancer has spread to nearby (regional) lymph nodes (bean-sized collections of immune system cells throughout the body).
- M indicates whether the cancer has metastasized (spread) to other organs of the body. (The most common site of eye melanoma spread is the liver.)
Eye Cancer Treatment
Any treatment for eye cancer will depend on the size and location of the tumor. , and on the growth or spreading of the tumor.
Treatment options include laser treatment to destroy cancer tissue, surgery to remove tissue or parts of the eye, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy to destroy cancer cells, or cryotherapy that uses extreme cold to destroy cancer cells.
Malpractice Lawsuits For Eye Cancer In Maryland
Though eye cancer is rare, doctors should be aware of the risk factors and symptoms, and should recommend additional diagnostic tests if they find an unusual change in the color or shape of the eye, or if they find a spot or mole on the eye.
Most misdiagnoses of eye cancer occur when doctors think nevi (moles or spots on the eye) are not cancerous. To avoid this mistake, an optometrist should check any new moles or spots on the eye.
If your eye cancer has been mishandled, contact our offices for a free consultation and start learning about your legal options.