Ocular Tumors and Cancer
Cancer is a disease that is characterized by the uncontrollable growth and spread of abnormal cells that cause damage to bodily tissues. In most forms of cancer, this uncontrolled growth of cells can develop into a tumor, which is a solid mass of abnormal tissue. However, although they are a common sign of cancer, many tumors are benign and not cancerous, which means that they will not spread to other parts of the body. Benign tumors are often harmless but still need to be monitored to make sure they don’t become cancerous.
Both benign and malignant growths can occur almost anywhere in the body, including the eyes.
Types of Ocular Tumors and Cancers
Several types of tumors and cancers can occur in the eye. Some of these include:
Informally known as an “eye freckle,” choroidal nevus is a pigmented tumor that grows on the choroid, which is the vascular layer of tissue located between the retina and sclera. This type of growth is typically harmless and doesn’t require treatment. However, choroidal nevi can sometimes develop into a type of cancer known as choroidal melanoma.
Congenital Hypertrophy of the Retinal Pigment Epithelium (CHRPE)
CHRPE is a benign lesion that is present from birth and appears on the pigmented layer of the retina known as the retinal pigment epithelium. In most cases, CHRPEs pose no significant risks to vision or overall health. Sometimes, they aren’t even discovered until later in life during a routine eye exam. In very rare cases, having several CHRPEs in one or both eyes may indicate the presence of an inherited condition known as Gardner’s syndrome, which is characterized by the development of tumors (both benign and malignant) and colorectal polyps.
In terms of cancer in general, choroidal melanoma is rare. However, it is the most common type of ocular cancer in adults. Like any cancer, choroidal melanoma can spread from the eye to other parts of the body through a process known as metastasis. It commonly spreads to the liver and lungs and can pose a significant threat to both vision and overall health.
Retinoblastoma is a type of ocular cancer that mostly occurs in children younger than two years old, but it can happen at any age. It is characterized by the growth of malignant cells in the retinal tissues. Some cases of retinoblastoma are caused by inheritable genetic factors, particularly in cases where there is a family history of retinoblastoma. Children born with the inheritable form have an increased risk of developing other cancers and brain tumors. However, retinoblastoma is not always inherited and is sometimes instead caused by genetic mutations that form after birth. Common signs of retinoblastoma include crossed eyes, discoloration or cloudiness of the pupils, eye redness, and eye pain.
Signs and Symptoms of Ocular Cancer
In some cases of eye cancer, there may be no signs or symptoms during the early stages. However, as cancer continues to progress, it may cause a wide range of symptoms, including:
- Changes in vision (blurriness, vision loss, etc.)
- Flashes of light
- Floaters (squiggly lines or specks in your field of vision
- A dark spot in the eye that is new or has increased in size
- Change in the size and/or shape of the pupil
Some of these symptoms can mean other things as well. For example, floaters are a common symptom of posterior vitreous detachment (PVD) and retinal tears/detachments. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important that you schedule an appointment with an ophthalmologist to get a proper diagnosis.
How Ocular Cancers and Tumors are Diagnosed
Diagnosing ocular cancers starts with an eye examination using an ophthalmoscope and/or slit lamp. Your doctor may also perform imaging tests, such as ultrasounds, optical coherence tomography (OCT), or fluorescein angiography. For the most part, eye exams and imaging tests are sufficient enough to make a diagnosis, but some cases may call for a biopsy of an ocular tumor. This is done using a fine needle to collect samples of the aqueous humor, which is the clear fluid found in the front of the eye behind the cornea, or cells from the tumor. For patients who have some form of ocular melanoma, doctors may also order CT scans, X-rays, and/or MRIs to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
How Ocular Cancers Are Treated
Unlike other cancers, eye cancers generally do not respond to chemotherapy. Chemo is typically only used in cases where cancer has spread from the eyes to other parts of the body. The most common treatment for ocular cancers is a type of radiation therapy known as brachytherapy, also referred to as plaque therapy. In this type of treatment, X-rays are used to eradicate cancer cells. In some cases, eye cancer surgery may be recommended.
Get Advanced Ocular Oncology Care in Minnesota
If detected and treated early on before spreading to other parts of the body, patients with ocular cancer have a 5-year survival rate of 85%. They are also more likely to prevent total vision loss. For advanced diagnostics and treatment for ocular cancers and tumors in Minnesota, contact Retina Consultants of Minnesota today.