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Eye Cancer Introduction

People with eye cancer now have more treatment choices and more hope for survival than ever before. Doctors keep finding new treatments for eye cancer and ways to help people with eye cancer have better lives.

What is cancer of the eye?

Primary eye cancer is a very rare kind of cancer that starts somewhere in or on the eye (on the surface, on the iris, or within the eye beneath the retina) or in the skin of cells around the eye (the eyelid). Because it is so rare, it is best for a person diagnosed with eye cancer to seek treatment from someone who specializes in this field. A person can ask their doctor to refer them to an eye cancer specialist.

 

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Anatomy of the eye

The eye is an organ that collects light and sends it to the brain. The brain turns this light from the eye into pictures that allow people to see. The eye is made up of different parts.

The eyelids keep the eyes moist and shield them from light. The conjunctiva is a membrane that covers the eyeball and lets the eyelid slide easily over the eye without irritating it. The cornea is the clear window that helps focus light and covers and protects the iris, which is the colored part of the front of the eye. The retina lines the inside of the eye and acts almost like film in a camera, doing the work that helps people to see.

The retina has a layer of blood vessels under it called the choroid. The choroid feeds the retina. It also has cells in it called melanocytes. These cells can sometimes grow into a malignant melanoma.

The choroid is one part of a group of structures called the uvea. The other parts are the iris and the ciliary body. The iris adjusts the size of the pupil (the opening in the center of the iris). The ciliary body produces aqueous fluid and controls the shape of the lens (to adjust to the distance of the object you focus on.) Melanomas may also grow in these other parts of the uvea as well.

Types of eye cancer

There are different kinds of eye cancers. Below are some of the more common ones:

  • Intraocular melanoma (uveal melanoma). This is the most common type of eye cancer. It usually develops in the choroid or ciliary body.

  • Intraocular lymphoma. Lymphoma (typically non-Hodgkin) that begins in the eyeball.

  • Eyelid tumors. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of eyelid cancer. It can be removed with surgery. Other types of eyelid tumors include squamous cell carcinoma, sebaceous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma.

  • Conjunctival tumors. (tumors that grow on the surface of the eye). Conjunctival tumors include squamous carcinomas, malignant melanomas, and lymphomas.

  • Choroid tumors. These are tumors that grow in the layer of blood vessels that support the retina. They include melanoma, which is a malignant tumor, choroidal nevus, and choroidal osteoma, which are benign tumors. 

  • Lacrimal gland tumors. Tumors found in the glands that produce tears.

  • Retinoblastoma. This is a cancer of the eye and is the most common primary ocular tumor in children. It is extremely rare in adults.