What Is Eye Cancer?

Eye cancer, and the field of ocular oncology, is an area of ophthalmology that specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of tumors in the eye or the surrounding areas, including the eyelid, eyebrow, eye socket and tear ducts. As with other forms of cancer, abnormal cells that have begun to divide or spread can wreak havoc on the delicate bones, tissue, nerves, muscles and arteries around the eye, which is why an accurate diagnosis and understanding of the affected areas is normally the first step before any treatment is recommended.

What are the symptoms of eye cancer?

  • Bulging eyes
  • Change in iris color
  • Poor vision in one eye
  • Red, painful eye
  • Small defect on the iris or conjunctiva

Treatment at Penn

An eye examination and clinical evaluation is typically the first step, before any treatment begins. This is especially the case in tumors, where the growth or appearance may have changed over time or has begun to affect different areas of the eye, which might require different tests or procedures. What the examination of your eye may reveal is a single round or oval lump, which can be confirmed or seen in greater detail by one of the following tests:

  • Cranial CT scan/MRI of the head: to see if the growth has spread to the brain
  • Eye ultrasound: two types of scans; to see behind the eye or in less visible areas
  • Skin biopsy: if the affected area is on the skin

If a tumor needs to be aggressively treated, the following procedures or therapies may be considered. Small melanomas may be treated with:

  • Brachytherapy
  • Lasers
  • Radiation therapy

In some cases, surgical removal of the eye (enucleation) may be needed. Chemotherapy or biological therapy (interferon) are considered less effective treatments for melanoma of the eye.

Are there any new treatments or therapies?

The specialists and sub-specialists at Penn's Scheie Eye Institute, who are also leading researchers in their respective areas of focus, are constantly looking for and developing new ways to treat some of the most difficult diseases, including the treatment of ocular tumors, including retinoblastoma, ocular melanoma, conjunctival malignancies, ocular metastases, and ocular and CNS lymphoma.

Penn Programs & Services for Eye Cancer

Ocular Oncology (Eye Cancers)

In partnership with our oncologists at the Abramson Cancer Center, our ophthalmologists diagnose and treat cancers in the eye or surrounding areas.

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