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Ocular Oncology Services

What are the causes for eye cancers?

Scientists still do not have a clear answer to what causes tumors or cancers in the eye.  While some conditions are inherited, others are not.  Researchers have noted some risk factors; however, these features do not mean someone will develop any of the diseases. Transversely, many patients who have none of the risk factors have been diagnosis with a ocular tumor.

At this point, investigations suggest that caucasians are at higher risk of an intraocular melanoma than Asian-Americans or African-Americans. People with blue or light-colored eyes are more susceptible to tumors than individual with brown eyes.  Those who have developed skin melanomas may also be at greater risk.

It has been suggested that too much exposure to the sun could be a potential risk factor; however, this hypothesis hasn’t been conclusively proven.  Other researchers theorize that certain occupations such as chemical workers, fishermen, welders and farmers are more likely to be at higher risk; however, these claims have yet to be substantiated.

Of the eye cancers, melanomas are the most common followed by lymphomas.  Both are more likely to metastasize from other parts of the body than originating in the eye.  While eye cancers appear in people of all ages, melanomas most often occur in individuals over the age of 50.

How is an ocular tumor diagnosed?

A specialist that deals with cancer of the eye can evaluate the tumor by having a thorough clinical examination performed. First, a detailed medical history will be conducted followed by an eye exam.  After inspecting and accessing the tumor, the physician may request special testing to further assist in the diagnosis.  An ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, retinal photographs and biopsy may be necessary.

In addition, the doctor may determine that a physical examination be done. This may require a blood test, X-rays or other imaging be performed.

What are the treatments for an ocular tumor?

Many factors determine the treatment for an ocular tumor.  The type, size and location of the growth as well as the age and the wishes of the patient must be considered.  Common treatment options include observation, laser, cryotherapy, chemotherapy, radiation, plaque therapy and enucleation. Intervention may be initiated by the physician if he/she believes the tumor to be growing or spreading.

Laser treatment can be used to treat ocular tumors. The surgeon employs a high-energy light to cut, burn or dissolve tissue.  Laser can be especially effective in dealing with retinoblastomas.

Cryotheraphy is a method of freezing an area using low temperatures.  Eyelid or conjunctival tumors may have cryo applied to them to encourage the scarring of malignant tissue.

Chemotherapy uses drugs to attack the cancerous cells.  While often used for other types of cancer, it is rarely used for the eye.  The drugs target the cancer causing a toxic effect on the malignant tissue. Chemo may be recommended for treating retinoblastomas or other tumors.

Radiation is sometimes used on cancerous cells to shrink a tumor.  External beam radiation (like X-rays) may be the preferred method of treating eyelid and orbital tumors, lymphomas, and some choroidal cancers.

Radiation plaque therapy requires a small radioactive device to be surgically placed directly over the melanoma. Seeds of radiation kill the cancerous cells causing the tumor to shrink in size. Each plaque is specifically designed for every individual tumor.  The tumor becomes “inactive” when the treatment is successful.

Sometimes the best treatment option is to surgically remove the eye. This procedure is called enucleation.  Enucleation may be performed when no other plans can effectively remove all the cancer from the eye.  Permanent vision loss occurs since eyes cannot be transplanted.