Eye Cancer: A Comprehensive Overview

Eye cancer, or eye neoplasm, is a rare cancer that hasn't yet been discussed on Recnac. Because the eye is a very sensitive, yet important, area, being diagnosed with a cancer in this region can be very debilitating. Eye cancer has two main types, one that affects the eyeball itself, and the other, which affects the surrounding regions and resembles skin cancer.

The first type is known as intraocular, which literally means, “within the eye”. The two most common types of tumors in adults are: uveal melanoma and intraocular lymphoma. The uvea consists of three parts: the iris (colored part of the eye), the ciliary body (connects the iris to the choroid) and the choroid (vascular layer between the retina and the sclera, which is the white part of the eye). In uvea melanoma, tumors stem from the pigment cells in the eye. If not treated in time, the tumors can spread to other pigmented parts of the eye and eventually, the entire eye. Unfortunately, the cause is unclear and more research needs to be conducted. However, according to Van Raamsdonk et al. in Nature and in another article by Van Raamsdonk et al. in the New England Journal of Medicine, there are two genes known as GNAQ and GNA11 that play a role in uveal melanoma. Both articles state that a genetic mutation in the aforementioned genes (46% and 40% respectively) correlate with uveal melanoma. Therefore, there is a genetic factor involved. The second common intraocular tumor is intraocular lymphoma. This type of tumor can be either secondary, where it results from the metastasis from another tumor not related to the eye, or primary (known as PIOL). PIOL commonly appears in the vitreous region, which is in the eyeball between the lens and the retina. Cells in this region are very rare, and if observed, then intraocular lymphoma could be the root cause. Upon removal of a sample from the vitreous region, pathology results commonly show a large B-cell lymphoma, which is characteristic of PIOL.

The second type of eye cancer occurs around the eye. Although it is not in the eye itself, it still plays an important role in ocular oncology. The primary regions around the eye anatomically include the orbit, which consists of, “the tissues surrounding the eyeball” and adnexal structures, which include, “eyelids and tear glands.” Because these areas are skin regions, they mimic skin cancers. If you recall from my previous article on skin cancer, (see here), there are three types: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. The most common eyelid tumors are basal cell carcinomas. According to MD Anderson, common symptoms for both types include but are not limited to, “blurred vision, loss of vision, floaters, irregular pigmentation in the eye, and structural changes (such as seeing a nodule in the orbital region).”

The treatment options for eye cancer vary depending on the severity of the disease. Traditionally, surgical removal of the eye and/or sections of the eye were the first method of treatment. However, presently, surgery is avoided and only used as a last resort. Losing an eye due to surgery has both functional and cosmetic implications. Because of the current advances in technology, the first line of treatment involves targeted radiotherapy, laser therapy, and chemotherapy if necessary. It is important upon diagnosis to consult with an ocular oncologist, which is typically an ophthalmologist who has completed special fellowship training in ocular oncology. Due to the inculcation of radiotherapy, collaboration with a radiation oncologist is crucial because some treatments involve targeted proton therapy.

Overall, although rare, eye cancer can be a detrimental illness. The key, as with most cancers, is early detection. It is very important to visit your optometrist and/or ophthalmologist for annual checkups. Upon examination, they will be able to notice anything unusual and refer you to the necessary specialists. In addition, it is important to be cognizant in dealing with eye cancer because it may present as a secondary tumor. According to the American Cancer Society, two of the most common cancers that spread to the eye from a remote area are breast cancer and lung cancer. Therefore, although eye cancers are rare cases, awareness of the subject matter is paramount. In conclusion, I implore everyone to get your annual eye checkups because the earlier the cancer is detected, the better the prognosis.

Photo source

SC Ali

About SC Ali

S.C. Ali is an author/editor. He has a degree in Chemistry, and is interested in the study and practice of medicine. His blog can be found here:

SC Ali

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