The eyes are important organ that receives light and sends impulses to the brain to form a picture. Three main parts of the eye are eyeball, orbit and accessories (eyelid and tear glands). An eyeball consists of three other parts called sclera, retina and uvea. Sclera is the soft outer wall, retina is the thin lining of the eyeball and uvea encloses the iris (which determines the amount of light received), the ciliary body (soft muscle tissue that secretes watery fluid) and the choroid (which nourishes inner portion of the eye).
Eye cancer is the term used for the presence of tumor in any part of the eye. Like other organs, cells of the eye undergo repeated changes and die eventually to give way for newer cells. But due to some reason cells grow in abnormal fashion to form a tumor. The tumors of the eye need not be cancerous all the time. It can be benign or harmless or sometimes it can be cancer causing. In medical terms cancer of the eyeball is known as intraocular malignancy. It may not be possible for you to see a tumor when you are looking at your eyes in the mirror. Eye cancer can be treated if detected in very early stages. Often large sized tumors or melanoma can cause loss of vision.
Eye Cancer Types :
Often, it is the region of the uvea where the tumor develops in the eye. Melanoma is the name given to common type of cancer which occurs when the eye cells (melanocytes) started producing cells uncontrollably. Melanin is the pigment responsible for giving skin color and eye color in our body and when a tumor develops in these cells it is called melanoma.
- Intraocular lymphoma is the cancer that develops in the eyeball.
- Retinoblastoma is a very rare type of eye cancer that occurs in children.
- If melanoma develops on the conjunctiva it is called conjunctival melanoma.
- In very rare cases, eyelid carcinoma can develops on the eyelids.
Often, eye melanoma or eye cancer cannot be detected in early stages since it may not produce any signs until it reaches advance stage. Some of the common signs of eye cancer are formation of dark spots on the iris, sensitivity to light and change in shape of the pupil (round shaped center portion of the eye). For some people the tumor can cause blurred vision or loss of peripheral vision in one eye.
Eye cancer occurs when excess of cells are secreted without loss of old cells. It is believed to occur due to defective gene mutation of the healthy eye cells. The growth of the cells become abnormal forming a tumor. Very often, eye cancer occurs in the uvea cells. It is the middle layer present between the retina and sclera. It can develop in any part of the uvea like the iris, the ciliary body or the choroid.
Who are at risk?
Eye cancer can occur to anyone irrespective of age and sex. A person born with blue/green eyes are at high risk of developing eye cancer. Eye cancer largely develops on white people when compared with other races. Elderly people are prone to develop cancer. People with inherited skin diseases like dysplastic nervous syndrome are at high risk of getting eye cancer.
Over exposure to ultraviolet rays of the sun can make one prone to develop eye cancer. Eye cancer is said to be primary if the cancerous cells begins developing in the eye and is called secondary cancer if the cancer has spread to the eye from any other part of the body.
Eye cancer or intraocular lymphoma can cause glaucoma (a condition that builds up excess of pressure inside the eye) which can lead to blurred vision and eye pain. Large tumors on the eye can cause complete loss of vision and small sized tumor can cause partial loss of vision. In severe cases eye cancer can spread to other organs if it has metastasized.
If you have any of the above symptoms like blurry vision or formation of dark spots in your eyes, you should consult your ophthalmologist immediately. She would examine the affected eye using special machine to view the inner portion of the eye. Ultrasound radiation is used to send sound waves that produce specific images on the monitor from which the doctor can detect any abnormality in your eye.
For some people eye angiogram is done and for others biopsy is also done by removing a small tissue sample and testing it in the lab. If the results are positive, indicating presence of eye cancer, your doctor may order for blood tests, imaging test like X-ray, CT scan to determine if the cancer has spread to other organs.
Eye Cancer Treatment :
For small sized melanoma that is not growing or causing any discomfort, no treatment is required. Your doctor will simply wait and watch for any further development. Surgery is done to remove part of melanoma along with some healthy tissues if the cancer cell is small. Surgery is done for removing the entire eye that is affected is called enucleation which is done for removing large sized tumors inside. After this surgery your surgeon will fix an implanted skin and muscles in the place for making flexible movements. In some cases prosthesis (artificial eye) is also done so that no one can detect that you have lost one eye.
- Radiation :
The patient will be made to lie on the table and high powered beam of light is directly sent into the affected eye to destroy cancerous cells. This therapy is used for treating small sized tumors. Sometimes a special radioactive substance is placed into the eye by brachytherapy which would emit controlled beam of light to destroy cancer cells. Laser therapy is also used nowadays to destroy cancer cells. Cryotherapy is a process that uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the cancerous cells present in the eye.
- Coping and Support :
It would be shocking and challenging to confront loss of vision either partially or fully. You can see anything and carryout your daily tasks even if you have lost one eye due to cancer. But it takes weeks/months for you to adjust. You have to cope with the problem and overcome it with the help of your doctor and counselor. You may not be able to judge the distance rightly if you have lost one eye.
You cannot prevent and do anything to stop the eye cancer from developing. You can take good care of your eyes and wear sunglasses if you are going out in the sun to prevent UV radiation. In case you are diabetic sudden increase in blood sugar can affect your eye and hence you should monitor your health regularly.