By Zack Steele
I get questions a lot from people about types of cancer in the eye. Though rare, cancer in and around the eye can occur. I thought I would share a few types of eye cancers with you today.
The most common type of cancer in and around the eye is basal cell carcinoma of the eyelid. It usually presents as a scaly, scabby type lesion that pops up around the margin of the eyelid closest to the eye ball. Excision of a basal cell lesion is usually tough because you have to remove a large amount of tissue to make sure the cancer is completely gone. When a patient has to have this removed, an occulo-plastic surgeon must be available to reconstruct the eyelid. Prognosis for this type of cancer is usually very good.
Cancers that actually occur on the eye are much more dangerous to the patient and need immediate attention.
Conjunctival intra-epithelial neoplasia is a type of cancer that grows on the conjunctiva, or the white part of the eye surface. It can mimic what appears to be normal discoloration of that part of the eye. Treatment for this usually requires enucleation, or removal of the globe of the eye, because it can spread rapidly to other tissue. We urge patients with normal discoloration, or melanosis, to have a yearly checkup. We also let patients know that if an area on the white part of the eye is chronically irritated, then it requires immediate attention.
Many types of cancer in the eye are metastatic from other areas of the body. In women, the most common metastatic area is from the breast, so women that have had breast cancer should have a dilated exam every year. The same holds true for men who have had lung cancer. And really, anyone who has survived cancer should have a yearly eye exam and a retinal scan performed.
The most dangerous type we see inside the eye is called a choroidal melanoma, where the vascularized choroid tissue underneath the retina can develop a lesion. These can spread rapidly to the brain. If untreated, survival rate from a choroidal melanoma is quite low. These, thankfully, are usually very rare. I have seen just one in 10 years of practice. Treatment is removing the eye in order to prevent spread.
The best way to prevent any of these things from happening is to have a yearly exam. At the risk of sounding over dramatic, it could very well save your life.
Dr. Zack Steele is a 2003 graduate of the UAB School of Optometry. His practice, Trussville Vision Care, is located in downtown Trussville.