Eye Cancer: Overview
What is eye cancer?
Cancer is made of changed cells that grow out of control. The changed (abnormal) cells
often grow to form a lump or mass called a tumor. Cancer cells can also grow into
(invade) nearby areas. And they can spread to other parts of the body. This is called
The eyes are organs that collect light and send it to the brain. The brain turns this
light into pictures that let you see. The eye is made up of many different parts.
Cancer can start in any part of the eye.
Primary eye cancer is a very rare kind of cancer that starts somewhere in or on the
eye or in the skin of cells around the eye. It most often starts inside the eyeball
itself. This is called intraocular cancer. Because it’s so rare, it’s best to seek
treatment from an eye cancer specialist.
Who is at risk for eye cancer?
A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of having a disease. The exact
cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk factors can make it more likely
for a person to have cancer. There are only a few factors known to increase the risk
of eye cancer, and they aren’t under your control.
The risk factors for eye cancer include:
Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors for eye cancer and what
you can do about them.
Can eye cancer be prevented?
There’s no known way to prevent eye cancer.
Are there screening tests for eye cancer?
There are no regular screening tests for eye cancer in people at average risk. Screening
is done to check for disease in people who don’t have symptoms.
Eye exams are an important part of routine physicals. And an eye doctor (ophthalmologist)
should check for signs of cancer during regular eye exams.
If you have a lot of irregular moles on your body (dysplastic nevus syndrome), you
may need to have your eyes checked more often. If you have a dark spot on your iris,
see an eye doctor. If you have a mole in your eye (eye nevus), your eye doctor should
check it regularly for changes.
What are the symptoms of eye cancer?
Symptoms of eye cancer can include:
Blurry vision that’s new
Partial or total vision loss
Seeing floating spots (floaters)
Seeing flashes of light
Dark spots or shadows in your vision
A dark spot on your iris or other part of your eye
Sensitivity to light
A lump on your eyelid or other part of your eye
Change in the shape of your pupil. The pupil is the black center of the colored part
of your eye.
Bulging of an eye
Redness or swelling in the eye
Change in the way your eye moves
Pain in or around your eye
Many of these may be caused by other health problems. But it is important to see a
healthcare provider if you have these symptoms. Only a healthcare provider can tell
if you have cancer.
How is eye cancer diagnosed?
You will need to see a specially trained eye doctor (ophthalmologist). The doctor
will ask you about your health history, symptoms, risk factors, and family history
of disease. He or she will do an eye exam. During the eye exam, the doctor will use
a special scope with a light (ophthalmoscope) to look at the inside of your eye.
You may also have one or more of these tests:
After a diagnosis of eye cancer, you’ll likely need other tests. These help your healthcare
providers learn more about the cancer. They can help determine the stage of the cancer.
The stage is how much and how far the cancer has spread (metastasized) in your body.
It is one of the most important things to know when deciding how to treat the cancer.
Once your cancer is staged, your healthcare provider will talk with you about what
the stage means for your treatment. Be sure to ask your healthcare provider to explain
the stage of your cancer to you in a way you can understand.
How is eye cancer treated?
Your treatment choices depend on the type of eye cancer you have, test results, and
the stage of the cancer. The goal of treatment may be to cure you, control the cancer,
or help ease problems caused by the cancer. Talk with your healthcare team about your
treatment choices, the goals of treatment, and what the risks and side effects may
Types of treatment for cancer are either local or systemic. Local treatments remove,
destroy, or control cancer cells in one area. Surgery and radiation are local treatments.
Systemic treatment is used to destroy or control cancer cells that may have traveled
around your body. When taken by pill or injection, chemotherapy is a systemic treatment.
You may have one treatment or a combination of treatments.
Eye cancer can be treated with:
Talk with your healthcare providers about your treatment options. Make a list of questions.
Think about the benefits and possible side effects of each option. Talk about your
concerns with your healthcare provider before making a decision.
What are treatment side effects?
Cancer treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation can damage normal cells. This
can cause side effects such as hair loss, mouth sores, and vomiting. Other treatments,
such as surgery or radiation, can affect your vision.
Talk with your healthcare provider about side effects you might have and ways to manage
them. There may be things you can do and medicines you can take to help prevent or
control side effects.
Coping with eye cancer
Many people feel worried, depressed, and stressed when dealing with cancer. Getting
treatment for cancer can be hard on the mind and body. Keep talking with your healthcare
team about any problems or concerns you have. Work together to ease the effect of
cancer and its symptoms on your daily life.
Here are tips:
Talk with your family or friends.
Ask your healthcare team or social worker for help.
Speak with a counselor.
Talk with a spiritual advisor, such as a minister or rabbi.
Ask your healthcare team about medicines for depression or anxiety.
Keep socially active.
Join a cancer support group.
Cancer treatment is also hard on the body. To help yourself stay healthier, try to:
Eat a healthy diet, with a focus on high-protein foods.
Drink plenty of water, fruit juices, and other liquids.
Keep physically active.
Rest as much as needed.
Talk with your healthcare team about ways to manage treatment side effects.
Take your medicines as directed by your team.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Your healthcare provider will talk with you about when to call. You may be told to
call if you have any of the below:
New symptoms or symptoms that get worse
Signs of an infection, such as a fever
Side effects of treatment that affect your daily function or don’t get better with
Ask your healthcare provider what signs to watch for, and when to call. Know how to
get help after office hours and on weekends and holidays.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also
know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that
Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.