Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Tests For Eye Cancer

Submitted on March 27, 2012

Eye cancer is one of the rarest kinds of cancers and is also often referred to as eye melanoma. These cancers are caused from uncontrolled growths in or around the structure of the eyes. The two main kinds of eye cancers are intraocular and extraocular cancers. Cancers that develop inside the eyes are known as intraocular cancers. Such kind of an eye cancer typically develops in the retina, lymph nodes around the eyes, and the lining of the eyeball. Cancers such as non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, ocular melanoma, and retinoblastoma are classified as intraocular cancers. When the cancer is around the eyes and not within the structure, it is known as extraocular eye cancer. Such cancers typically develop in the skin around the eyes, surface of the eyelid, and the optic nerves. Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, rhabdomyosarcoma, and optic nerve tumors are classified as extraocular eye cancers.

Tests Recommended

Your ophthalmologist can prescribe various medical tests that can help diagnose the condition. Before the doctor prescribes any specific eye cancer tests, you will be asked to get a physical examination. Using some specialized hand held devices, the doctor will check for growths or spots in and around the eyes. The doctor may even give some eye drops to you for further testing. After the initial eye exam, you may be asked to get some imaging tests. Fluorescein angiography is one of the imaging tests used for detecting eye cancer. This test is performed using a radioactive dye. The test allows the doctor to ensure that the blood vessels and nerves connecting the eyes to the brain are not blocked. The dye is injected through your arm and it quickly travels through the body.

Apart from these imaging tests, you can also get an ultrasound scan in which a sensor is placed close to the eyelids and an image of the area inside your eye is evaluated. You can also get a computed tomography (CT or CAT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to check the muscles around your eyes. Sometimes, muscles and tissues may develop abnormal growths and these MRI scans can help identify the abnormalities so that early treatment can be given. A fine needle may further be used to perform a biopsy. With this needle, a small sample is taken from the fluids inside your eyes. This fluid is then analyzed to check for any abnormal cancer markers.


Like most other kinds of cancers, doctors are not completely sure how eye cancer develops. There are, however, some known risk factors that can increase the probability of developing eye cancer. Those with blue, grey, or green eyes are usually more prone to developing eye cancer. Those, who have unusual brown colored spots in or around their eyes or large atypical moles of various sizes, may also have a genetic predisposition towards developing eye cancers. Melanoma is caused when you remain in the sun without adequate protection. If you have a habit of remaining in the sun for long without sunscreen, a wide brimmed hat or sunglasses, it could increase the risk of ocular melanoma. Another one of eye cancer causes is a weak immune system. Eye cancer may be common in those who already suffer from some other kind of cancer or AIDS. Some babies are born with a mutated gene, which makes them prone to retinoblastoma.


Eye cancer symptoms differ from one person to another, depending on the type of cancer and the location of the cancerous growths. Some of the typical eye cancer symptoms include partial or complete loss of vision, dark spots on the irises that may begin to grow eventually, seeing flashing lights or spots, a lump on the eyelid, which may crust or bleed, and pain in the eyes or around it. Both intraocular and extraocular eye cancers may cause a lump on the eyelids, watery eyes, pain in the eyes, or a bulging eye. Usually, there are no symptoms in the early stages of the cancer, but as the cancer grows, the symptoms may become more intensified.


The most common eye cancer treatment is surgery. This surgery is performed to remove the affected tissues surgically. If there are extraocular tumors around the eyes or on the eyelids, surgery can be used to remove the tumors. Sometimes, surgery is complemented with radiotherapy and chemotherapy. There are some other types of cancers, especially those like melanoma, which can be treated using laser surgeries. If the cancer affects a large part of the eyes, the whole eye ball needs to be removed. In such a case, an artificial eyeball may be implanted into the eye socket. There are non-surgical treatments that can also be used such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Blood tests are usually part of the treatment conducted for cancer.

While cancer is always best treated medically by a doctor, you can however improve your diet and lifestyle to ensure better health and thus reduce the risk of cancer. A well-balanced diet with plenty of cancer-fighting antioxidants and regular exercise goes a long way in boosting the immune system and keeping you fit.