Eye Cancer - Retinoblastoma

What is eye cancer?

Eye cancer, sometimes called ocular melanoma, is a rare form of cancer with roughly 500 cases of ocular melanoma diagnosed every year in the UK. Melanoma is a form of cancer which develops in cells called melanocytes and in most cases melanomas develop in the skin but can also grow in the eye. The most common type of eye cancer is uveal melanoma, which develops in the uveal tract.

What causes eye cancer?

Like most forms of cancer, the cause of eye cancer is largely unknown. However, some risks have come to light:

  • Exposure to sunlight: exposure to UV rays increases your risk of developing a melanoma
  • Light eyes: people with light coloured eyes are more probable to develop eye cancer than people with dark eyes
  • Fair skin: people who burn easily are more liable to develop eye cancer
  • Weak immune system: squamous cell carcinoma is more common among people who have a weakened immune system

Symptoms of eye cancer

Many of the signs of eye cancer are associated with other conditions, but it is always a viable option to get checked out. Symptoms to look out for include:

  • Loss of sight
  • Bulging eye (usually just one eye)
  • Pain in or around the eye
  • Watery eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • A dark spot on the iris (which increases in size)
  • Floaters (these are squiggly lines which you can see in front of your eyes)

How is eye cancer diagnosed?

If you develop any of the above symptoms you should see your GP. Your optician may advise you to see your GP if they notice symptoms during a routine eye test. Your GP will refer you to an ophthalmologist who will conduct tests, and if they think you may have eye cancer they will refer you to an eye cancer specialist centre. At the centre you will have further tests, which may include an ultrasound scan, biopsy and a fluorescein angiogram, which enables doctors to see the blood vessels around the eye. The results these in-depth tests will be evaluated in order to arrive at a concrete judgment.

What treatments are available for eye cancer?

The treatment pathway may differ according to the individual. Possible treatments for eye cancer include laser surgery and radiotherapy as well as chemotherapy. Treatment will be administered by a multi-disciplinary team.

What is the outlook for people with eye cancer?

The outlook for eye cancer depends heavily on the stage of the cancer. If a verdict has been made early, the chances of survival are much higher than when a diagnosis is made at an advanced stage. 84 percent of people who are diagnosed with early stage eye melanoma survive for at least 5 years after diagnosis.

Living with eye cancer

Living with eye cancer can be traumatic and you may struggle to get your head around the idea of having eye cancer. Your devoted care team will look after every aspect of your care, but if you need complementary support or counsel, you can get in touch with one of the UK's operating cancer charities.

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