Eye cancer is a life-threatening ocular disease but is also fairly unknown. It is rare and accounts for about more than 0.3-0.4% of all cancers in India. Most cases of eye cancer are observed in adults. It usually affects the outer part of your eyes, like the eyelid and causes a loss of sight.
It is an uncommon disease with no known causes. Therefore, people are unaware and possess only a little knowledge about its causes, symptoms, risk factors and treatment. Since awareness is one of the significant keys to tackle any obstacle, here we bring to you some essential facts that you should know about this rare cancer affecting the precious eyes.
Let’s dive in deep to explore the information related to eye cancer, its types, symptoms, risk factors and treatment.
- What is eye cancer and its different types?
- What are the common signs and symptoms of eye cancer?
- What are the risk factors of developing eye cancer?
- Is eye cancer preventable?
- How is eye cancer treated?
What are eye cancer and its different types?
Eye cancer (also called ocular cancers) develops when healthy cells in or around the eye multiply uncontrollably, resulting in benign (non-cancerous) tumours. It is usually painless and causes redness, changes to vision, irritation, burning, itching, or swelling in the eye.
In some conditions, changes in cells of the eye can result in precancerous conditions. These precancerous conditions can lead to cancer if left untreated. Most common precancerous conditions of the eye:
- Primary acquired melanosis of the conjunctiva.
- Ocular melanocytosis (having a high number of pigment-making cells and extra pigment in and around the eyes).
Types of Eye Cancer
Depending upon the origin, eye cancer is divided into two types:
- Primary eye cancer: These are cancerous tumours that start within the eye and affect the eyeball, conjunctiva, eyelids, eye socket and tear glands. It includes melanoma of the eye, lymphoma of the eye, retinoblastoma and other rare tumours such as orbital and squamous cell carcinoma.
- Secondary eye cancers: These are malignant tumours spread from the eye to another part of the body. In females, this is most likely to occur with breast cancer, while in males, this is most likely to occur with lung cancer.
What are the common signs and symptoms of eye cancer?
Eye cancer usually may not cause any signs or symptoms in its early stages, but some symptoms often appear when a tumour grows and causes changes to the eye’s tissue or vision. These symptoms are:
- Blurred vision
- Bulging of one eye or both
- Partial/complete loss of vision
- Seeing shadows, spots, flashes of light, or wiggly lines in front of the eyes
- Lump on the eyelids or around the eye
- Irritation in the eyes
- Dark spot on the iris (coloured part of the eye) that increases in size
- Alteration in the appearance of the eyes
- Chronic inflammation of the conjunctiva
- Loss of peripheral vision (a person can see the objects in the front, but not at the sides)
- Pain in or around the eyes is quite rare unless the tumour has spread outside of the eye or raised the pressure inside the eye
What are the risk factors of eye cancer?
Several factors can increase the risk of developing eye cancer. Some of the common risk factors include:
- Eye colour: Individuals with green, blue, or grey eyes are at elevated risk of getting eye melanoma compared to people with brown eyes.
- Age: Those who are above the age of 50 are most likely to develop eye cancer. The average age of eye cancer diagnosis is 55.
- Medical conditions: Individuals having the following medical conditions are at increased odds of suffering from cancer of the eyes.
(a) Individuals who have abnormal brown spots/pigmentation on iris (known as iris nevus) or uvea (known as oculodermal melanocytosis)
(b) Dysplastic nevus syndrome: Condition marked by multiple abnormal, irregularly shaped, and unusually coloured moles on the skin.
- Family history: Ocular cancer can run in families; however, it is rare. Typically, it is due to alteration in the gene called BAP1, which is most likely associated with metastatic uveal eye cancer. Alteration in the retinoblastoma gene (RB1 gene) is linked with retinoblastoma.
- Gender: Eye cancer is slightly more common in males than females.
- Sunlight and ultraviolet (UV) radiation: We all know that overexposure to harmful UV rays is a significant risk factor for skin cancer. However, it may also be possibly associated with eye cancer (more research is needed to confirm). Also, exposure to artificial ultraviolet radiation such as sunbeds may put a person at risk of eye melanoma.
- Viral infection: Individuals infected with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) may be more prone to develop ocular cancer due to the weakening of the immune system by the virus.
- Skin melanoma: Few individuals having uveal eye melanoma have a history of melanoma of the skin. However, it is still not clear if having skin melanoma increases the odds of developing eye melanoma. Also read, Association between blue light and development of uveal melanoma.
- Other factors: Few studies have indicated that certain chemicals may be a risk factor for eye cancer. People working in a chemical plant or welding facility are at more risk of suffering from eye cancer. But, there is still no conclusive data about this link.
Is eye cancer preventable?
It is challenging to prevent eye cancer, but some preventive measures can reduce the risk of developing eye cancer. To stay safe from eye cancer, take the below preventative steps:
- Limit exposure to direct sunlight and use UV protected sunglasses
- Wear sunglasses if you are working in a chemical plant or welding facility
- Consume a vitamin-rich diet as they are suitable for your eyes. To explore the efficacy of anti-cancer vitamins to fight cancer, read here!
- Have regular eye examinations and vision care tests for early disease diagnosis
How is eye cancer treated?
The treatment of eye cancer is focused on maintaining vision, reducing the spread of cancer to other body parts, and preventing cancer recurrence. Several treatment options available for eye cancer are:
- Radiotherapy or radiation therapy
- Laser therapy
- Cryotherapy (freezing therapy)
- Enucleation (removal of the eye)
- Surgery (resect the tumour in hopes of preserving the eyeball)
- Thermotherapy (heat therapy)
However, the treatment of eye cancer is solely dependent on the type of cancer, stage of cancer, the patient’s overall health, chances of curing the disease, and the impact of treatment on vision. All the treatments of eye cancer will have risks and benefits, affecting vision to varying degrees.
It is always safe to prevent disease rather than spending billions on diagnosis and treatment of disease. You should consult an ophthalmologist whenever you notice any anomaly with the vision or witness any peculiar signs and symptoms that worry you.
Annual eye examinations (majorly for those with identified risk factors) will help diagnose eye cancer early, as eye tumours are primarily found during routine examinations. Regular examination and seeking treatment at the most curable stage will also help to lower the risk of complications such as cancer recurrence.
Also, do not forget to adopt healthy lifestyle habits such as eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight and practising meditation to stay active and fit. These lifestyle habits will surely have positive effects on your health.
You can also explore the top five foods to prevent cancer.