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Eye Cancer: Warning Signs

By Essilor News

Eye cancer, also known as ocular cancer, begins when healthy cells in various parts of the eyes begin to change uncontrollably and grow and create abnormal cells, or a tumor. These tumors can be benign, typically those that grow but don't spread, or malignant, which are cancerous with the ability to develop and spread to other parts of the body.

There are two basic types of eye cancer: primary intraocular and secondary intraocular cancer. While ocular cancer is quite rare, the American Cancer Society estimates that 2,580 new cases of eye cancers, mainly melanomas of the eye and orbit, will be diagnosed in 2015 alone.

Primary Intraocular Cancer

Primary intraocular cancers begin inside one of the eyeball structures. In adults, the most common types of primary intraocular cancer are melanomas of the eye and primary intraocular lymphoma. Other rare eye cancers include conjunctival melanoma, eyelid carcinoma, and lacrimal gland tumor, says the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

In children, the most common form of primary intraocular cancer is retinoblastoma, a cancer that begins in retina cells affecting roughly 300 U.S. children per year under the age of five.

Secondary Intraocular Cancer

Cancer that spreads from the other parts of the body to the eyes is known as secondary intraocular cancer. More common than primary intraocular cancers, this type is spread to the uvea and other eye structures in people with metastatic breast and lung cancers.

Symptoms of eye cancer in adults and children differ greatly. Most eye cancer symptoms are influenced by the type of cancer. Some of the most common eye cancer symptoms in adults include tiny floating specks in the field of vision (most often non-cancerous), bulging eyes, red or watery eyes, eye pain, dark spots on the iris, and blurred vision.

The causes of eye cancer are not easily identified. Researchers have discovered a link between the disease and certain risk factors. However, exposure to these risk factors does not necessarily mean that you will develop eye cancer.

Risk factors for eye melanoma and eye lymphoma are also quite different. Older Caucasian men with light colored eyes, as well as people with certain inherited conditions like dysplastic nevus syndrome, abnormal brown spots on the uvea, or BAP1 cancer syndrome, have a higher chance of developing eye melanoma. Alternatively, the only risk factor for eye lymphoma is a weakened immune system like those seen in people with AIDS, on anti-rejection medications following a tissue or organ transplant, or who have autoimmune disorders.

Annual eye examinations are an important way to protect your eye health. A routine eye examination can help your eye doctor identify signs of serious health conditions, like eye cancer, and give you a better chance of dealing with the disease. Consult your eye doctor if you notice any new or worsening changes in your vision or the appearance of your eyes.