Facts about eye cancer: signs and risk factors

August 27, 2020 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

Eye cancer is a type of cancer that affects the eye and can cause a loss of sight.

It is an uncommon type of cancer with no known cause. According to the American Cancer Society, 3,400 people (fairly equally split between men and women) will be diagnosed with eye cancer this year. The American Cancer Society also estimates 390 deaths from eye cancer this year.

The most common form of eye cancer is melanoma (also called ocular melanomas) that typically starts in the uvea, or the middle layer of the eyeball. The uvea is divided into three parts: the iris (the colored part of the eye), the choroid (a thin pigmented layer that lines the eyeball), and the ciliary body (contains the muscles inside the eye). Typically eye melanomas develop in the ciliary body or the choroid.

Secondary eye cancers are cancers that have started elsewhere and spread to the eye — and are more common than cancer that begins in the eye. The most common types of cancer that can spread to the eye are breast and lung cancer.

  • Age. The average age for diagnosis of eye cancer is 55. Diagnosis of eye cancer is rare in children and adults older than 70 years of age.
  • Eye color. People with light colored eyes are at a higher risk than those with dark colored eyes.
  • Family history. Eye cancer can run in families, but it is usually rare.
  • Inherited conditions, such as dysplastic nevus syndrome (a condition that causes abnormal moles on the skin) or BAP1 cancer syndrome (a rare inherited condition) are associated with an increased risk for eye cancer.
  • Race. Caucasians tend to be more at risk for eye cancer than Hispanics or African Americans. 

Too much exposure to sunlight or UV rays, while a known risk factor for skin cancer, may also be a possible risk factor for eye cancer, but more research is needed to be certain.

Some of symptoms of eye cancer include:

  • Seeing flashes of light or floaters in the eye
  • Loss of sight in a portion of your visual field of sight
  • Other problems with vision including blurred vision or sudden loss of vision
  • A growing dark spot on the colored part of the eye
  • A change in the shape or size of the pupil
  • A change in the way the eyeball is positioned in the socket
  • Bulging of the eye
  • A change in the way the eye moves in the socket

There is no widely recommended screening for eye cancer, but yearly eye exams (particularly for those with identified risk factors) can play a key role in early detection. Oftentimes, eye cancers are discovered during routine exams.

If your doctor suspects eye cancer, he may order imaging tests or an ultrasound of the eye to aid with diagnosis. Your doctor may also order a chest X-ray or other tests to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

Those diagnosed with primary eye cancer, where the cancer begins in the eye and has not spread, have a high survival rate. Treatment options for eye cancer may include simple observation to see if the tumor grows, surgery to remove the tumor, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or medications.

Cancer is a journey no one expects to take. We’re with you every step of the way. Learn more about cancer care at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Learn more about Edward-Elmhurst Health’s cancer care from Healthy Driven Chicago.

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