This factsheet is for people who have eye cancer, or who would like information about it.
Eye cancer is a lump in or around your eye that is created by an abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells.
Eye cancer is caused by an uncontrolled growth of cells in or around the eye. Cancer of the eye is very rare in the UK; about 430 people get it each year.
There are several different types of eye cancer.
Cancer that develops in your eye is called intraocular cancer. Cancer that develops outside your eye is called extraocular cancer.
Intraocular eye cancers
Types of intraocular eye cancer include the following.
Extraocular eye cancers
Extraocular eye cancers include the following.
Secondary eye cancers
Sometimes a cancer can spread to your eye from another part of your body. This is called a secondary eye cancer. This is most likely to happen in women with breast cancer, and in men with lung cancer.
Symptoms of eye cancer vary depending on the type of cancer you have and where it's located.
If you have an intraocular cancer, such as ocular melanoma, you might not have any symptoms and it will be detected in a routine eye examination. This is why it's important to have an eye test every two years.
If you do have symptoms of eye cancer, they may include:
These symptoms aren't always caused by eye cancer and could be caused by a number of other reasons, but if you have any of them, see your GP or optician.
Most children with retinoblastoma look well, but parents may notice a squint or an odd looking pupil that looks white. Their eye may also look red and inflamed.
The exact reasons why you may develop eye cancer aren't fully understood at present. However, you may be more likely to develop certain types of eye cancer if you have:
Your GP or optician will ask about your symptoms and examine you. He or she may also ask you about your medical history.
If your GP or optician thinks that you have eye cancer he or she will refer you to an ophthalmologist (a doctor who specialises in eye health, including eye surgery). If your ophthalmologist suspects you have eye cancer, he or she may refer you to a specialist centre for eye cancer.
You may have the following tests to confirm the diagnosis.
Your treatment will depend on the type of eye cancer you have, the size and how far it has spread (which is called staging) and your general state of health. There are three main treatments for eye cancer.
Surgery usually involves removing just the affected tissue. This is often enough to remove most eyelid tumours. However, you may need to have a small part of your eye, or if the cancer affects a large part of your eye, your whole eye removed (enucleation surgery). If you have your eye removed an artificial (prosthetic) eyeball can be created to match your remaining eye. This will last for your lifetime, you won’t need to have it replaced.
If the cancer has spread you may need to have your eye and eyelid, and the muscles, nerves, and fat in your eye socket removed (exenteration surgery). After this surgery you may have an artificial eye or a facial prosthesis fitted.
Some types of eye cancer, such as melanoma of the eye, can be treated with laser therapy (a high-energy beam of light will be used to destroy the cancer cells).
Surgery is sometimes combined with radiotherapy to treat eye cancer. Radiotherapy uses radiation to destroy cancer cells. A beam of radiation is targeted on the cancerous cells, which shrinks the tumour. Radiotherapy can now be targeted to the area that needs treating to prevent damaging normal tissues close by. Alternatively a source of radioactive material will be put in or near your tumour. This is called brachytherapy.
Radiotherapy is often used to treat melanoma of the eye.
The length of your radiotherapy treatment will depend on what type of eye cancer you have and how severe it is. If you have ocular melanoma for example, you will usually have external beam radiotherapy as small doses over a few days, or brachytherapy for a week. Ask your doctor for information on the type and length of treatment you need.
Chemotherapy is a treatment to destroy cancer cells with medicines. They are usually injected into your vein but sometimes may be given as tablets.
Chemotherapy can be effective for treating lymphoma of the eye and retinoblastoma. It's only used for melanoma of the eye if other types of treatment haven't worked.
Being diagnosed with cancer can be distressing for you and your family. An important part of cancer treatment is having support to deal with the emotional aspects as well as the physical symptoms. Specialist cancer doctors and nurses are experts in providing the support you need, and may also visit you at home. If you have more advanced cancer, further support is available to you in hospices or at home, this is called palliative care.
Published by Rebecca Canvin, Bupa Health Information Team, March 2012
For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see FAQs.
For sources and links to further information, see Resources.
This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.