Pacific Cancer Programs

Retina (Eye) Cancer

Eye cancer is a cancer that forms in tissues of and around the eye. Some of the cancers that may affect the eye include melanoma (a rare cancer that begins in cells that make the pigment melanin in the eye), carcinoma (cancer that begins in tissues that cover structures in the eye), lymphoma (cancer that begins in immune system cells), and retinoblastoma (cancer that begins in the retina and usually occurs in children younger than 5 years).

The Eye

Types of intraocular cancer

The most common intraocular cancer in adults is uveal metastases, which is cancer that has spread to uvea from another place in the body, called secondary cancer. Primary intraocular cancer means that the tumor started in the eye, not somewhere else in the body.

  • Melanoma: The most common type of primary intraocular cancer in adults. It begins when pigmented (colored) cells in the eye called melanocytes grow uncontrollably. Intraocular melanoma is also called uveal melanoma.

Other, less common types of an intraocular tumor include:

  • Intraocular lymphoma: A lymphoma that begins in the eyeball. This condition is rare and can be difficult for doctors to diagnose. Many doctors consider intraocular lymphoma to be a type of central nervous system lymphoma. Most intraocular lymphomas are non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
  • Retinoblastoma: A rare form of childhood eye cancer.
  • Hemangioma: A benign vascular tumor of the choroid and retina.

In addition, rare tumors of the eye include:

  • Conjunctival melanoma: A tumor of the conjunctiva (a membrane that lines the eyelid and eyeball). If this tumor is not treated, it can spread to the lymph nodes. This tumor tends to recur (come back after treatment) on the eye's surface and looks like dark spots on the eye. Doctors often perform a biopsy (removal of a sample of the tissue for examination under a microscope) on a lesion that appears to be conjunctival melanoma.
  • Eyelid carcinoma (basal or squamous cell): A variation of skin cancer. This tumor may be surgically removed and is usually not dangerous if it is treated early.

Signs and Symptoms

People with intraocular melanoma often have no symptoms. Many times, an ophthalmologist finds the melanoma during a routine eye examination. The most common symptom is painless loss of vision.

People with eye cancer may experience the following symptoms or signs. Sometimes people with eye cancer do not show any of these symptoms. Or, these symptoms may be caused by a medical condition that is not cancer. If you are concerned about a symptom or sign on this list, please talk with your doctor:

  • Having trouble seeing.
  • Losing part of the field of vision.
  • Seeing flashes of light.
  • Seeing spots, squiggly lines, or floating objects (floaters).
  • Having a dark spot on the iris. Unlike choroidal and ciliary body melanoma, iris melanoma can sometimes be seen because it looks like dark spots on the eye.

Acknowledgment: This text is adapted from the NCI and ASCO websites.

Resources

General Information

National Cancer Institute (NCI)

NCI has up-to-date information for patients and practitioners about eye cancers.

American Cancer Society (ACS)

ACS has extensive information for all aspects of eye cancer.

American Society of Clincal Oncology (ASCO)

"Cancer.Net brings the expertise and resources of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the voice of the world's cancer physicians, to people living with cancer and those who care for and care about them. ASCO is composed of nearly 30,000 members who are the leaders in advancing cancer care. All the information and content on Cancer.Net was developed and approved by the cancer doctors who are members of ASCO, making Cancer.Net an up-to date and trusted resource for cancer information."

MedlinePlus - Eye Cancer Link

MedlinePlus will direct you to information to help answer health questions. MedlinePlus brings together authoritative information from NLM, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and other government agencies and health-related organizations. MedlinePlus also has extensive information about drugs, an illustrated medical encyclopedia, interactive patient tutorials, and latest health news. Please make sure you check the MedlinePlus online for Eye Cancer information with an extensive, constantly updated resource list.

World Health Organization (WHO) - Consider the Ultraviolet Index (UVI)

Considering the Ultraviolet Index (UVI) for the USAPIs are generally higher than other places around the world (avg. 7-10), it is recommended that UV protection for the eyes and skin are worn as often as possible in any situations with exposure to the sun with a UVI of 3 or more. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information, publications, and FAQ on ultraviolet health protection and prevention:

Online Tools

Siteman Cancer Center: Melanoma Risk Questionnaire

Melanoma is a rare but very dangerous type of skin cancer. And, like all types of skin cancer, getting too much sun is a main risk factor.

To estimate your risk of melanoma and learn about ways to lower that risk, take a few minutes to answer some questions about your health, background, and lifestyle.

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