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Adult Eye Cancer

Cancer affecting the eye or any of its supplementary organs is referred to as ocular cancer. While the cancer can begin in the eye, it is very rare. It is more likely for a cancer from another portion of the body to metastasize to the eye; the most common forms of cancer to spread are lung and breast cancer. Less usual are thyroid, prostate, skin, kidney, bone, and colon cancer.


Neoplasm is any abnormal growth of cells in the body. A collection of neoplasm is most commonly known as a tumor. A tumor is a general term to describe both benign, non-life threatening, or malignant, life threatening cancer. Because the eye is so complex, there are many different types of tumors that can affect multiple areas of the eye. Some ocular tumors are more common in adults than in children; these are described below. Most of these occur after 40.


Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is a common skin cancer. Although it is malignant, it is rarely deadly on its own. It is mostly painful and uncomfortable, but can metastasize to other areas of the body. BCC commonly affects the eyelid. It appears as a red lesion. If the tumor is small enough it can be removed through surgery.  Local radiation and chemotherapy are also used to treat BCC.


Uveal melanoma is the most common cancer to take place in the uvea: the iris, choroid, and ciliary body. Melanoma is a skin cancer that affects the melanocytes, which produce the pigment melanin. Melanoma is a quickly spreading, dangerous cancer. It is caused by sun exposure or hereditary trait. 


Uveal melanoma can spread through all of the eye. It can cause bloodshot eyes and irritation. The growth may also increase intraocular pressure, pushing on the cornea and causing astigmatism.  It can also lead to blurred vision and, ultimately, retinal detachment.


Iris melanoma is the most rare form of uveal melanoma, but also the most manageable. It rarely metastasizes or causes vision loss. It does cause the iris to become discolored and develop freckles. Radiation and chemotherapy have become safer in the past few years, but in more extreme cases enucleation may be necessary.


Intraocular lymphoma (IL) is a rare form of blood cancer that occurs in the retina-blood barrier in the back of the eye. IL frequently presents itself as and is frequently treated like uveitis: red eyes and irregular pupils. It can metastasize easily, but can be treated effectively with chemotherapy.


Orbital lymphoma (OL) is another form of blood cancer that affects the blood barriers of the adnexa, supplementary parts of the eye. OL can cause uveitis and may cause the eye to move from its normal position. Unlike IL, radiation therapy is the most effective treatment.


Optic nerve sheath meningioma (ONSM) is a benign tumor that grows on the optic nerve. This rare growth can cause vision loss, but is non-deadly and does not metastasize easily. The tumor grows very slowly and thus vision loss is manageable. In fact, most doctors do not recommend treatment unless blindness is imminent. In this case, radiation is used primarily, with surgery being a rare backup.


A similar condition is an optic nerve melanocytoma (ONM), which is a benign tumor on the optic nerve from malfunctioning melanocytes. Symptoms occurring are rare, and once the ONM presents itself it doesn’t grow. In extremely, rare cases the growth can constrict the optic nerve and cause vision loss. However, the worst symptom is normally just a larger blind spot.


Intraocular schwannoma is a benign sheath tumor on the nerves within the eye, most frequently in the uvea. It causes iris and pupil discoloration, redness, eye dislodgement, ptosis, and vision loss. Unfortunately, the only effective treatment is enucleation.