Treating Eye Cancer

Close up of human eye

Eye Cancer Treatment Options

Cancer can affect any part of the body, including the eyes. The disease can start in the eyes or may spread from other parts of the body. Treatment for this kind of cancer is focused on killing the cancer cells while preserving as much of your vision as possible.

Types of Eye Cancer

Treatment for eye cancer depends on the type and the stage of the disease. Common eye cancer types include:

  • Melanoma. Ocular melanoma is the most common type of primary eye cancer, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders. "Primary" means that the cancer started in the eye. Ocular melanoma is classified as a secondary cancer if the disease developed in another part of the body and then spread to the eye.
  • Retinoblastoma. This type of cancer primarily affects children and occurs when tumors form in the retina, the layer of light-sensing cells that lines the back of the eye.
  • Orbital Cancer. Orbital cancer may develop in the muscles, nerves, blood vessels, or other tissues in the eye socket.
  • Adnexal Cancer. Adnexal cancer can affect the tear glands or eyelids.
  • Primary Intraocular Lymphoma. Lymphoma starts when white blood cells in your blood begin to mutate. Occasionally, the cells may travel through the bloodstream to the eye and cause cancer.

How Do Ophthalmologists Treat Eye Cancer?

Treatment for ocular cancer depends on the type and stage of the cancer. Your cancer treatment plan may include one or more of these options:

  • Watchful Waiting. If you have a small melanoma, your eye doctor may recommend treatment only if your tumor starts to get bigger.
  • Radiation Treatments. Radiation treatment is one of the most common ocular cancer treatments. The treatment kills cancerous cells by exposing them to X-rays, protons, gamma rays, or electron beams. External beam therapy involves aiming a high-energy beam at your eye. During brachytherapy, small radiation seeds are applied inside the tumor or to the outside of your eye close to your tumor. Brachytherapy is a very effective treatment for ocular melanoma and cures 90 percent of small- to medium-size tumors, according to the American Cancer Society.
  • Transpupillary Thermotherapy (TTT). TTT is a laser therapy that heats the cancerous cells in the tumor, which kills them.
  • Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses medication to target and kill fast-growing cancer cells. You may receive the medication through an intravenous (IV) line or might take prescription chemotherapy pills.
  • Other Drug-Based Therapies. Targeted or immune therapy drugs may be part of your ocular cancer treatment plan. Immune therapy drugs enhance your immune system's ability to attack cancerous cells. Targeted therapy uses medications that target the proteins cancerous cells need to grow and spread.
  • Surgery. Surgery may be needed to remove the tumor or all or part of your eye in some cases.

Will Cancer Treatment Affect My Vision?

Partial or complete vision loss can sometimes occur due to the damage caused by the tumor itself or the treatments used to kill cancer. If you've had radiation treatment, you may experience dry eye, cataracts, or permanent changes to your vision.

Although laser therapy quickly kills cancerous cells, the treatment may increase your risk of retinal detachment, abnormal blood vessel growth, or other issues that could affect your eyesight.

Your ophthalmologist will carefully consider the effectiveness of the treatment and the possible effects on your vision when recommending treatment options. Although your eye doctor will do everything possible to save your eyesight, sometimes vision loss is unavoidable.

Eye cancer is most treatable when it's diagnosed in the earliest stages. Annual eye examinations can help you protect your eyes and your health. If it's been a while since you've seen the ophthalmologist, or you are having problems with your vision, contact our office to schedule an appointment.


American Cancer Society: Radiation Therapy for Eye Cancer

American Cancer Society: If You Have Eye Cancer

Cancer.Net Eye Cancer: Treatment Options, 8/15

American Academy of Ophthalmology: Eye Cancer, 3/27/20

American Cancer Society: Laser Therapy for Eye Cancer, 11/30/18

National Organization for Rare Disorders: Ocular Melanoma


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