Eye cancer is any sort of tumor that affects the various structures of the eye. Eye cancers can affect the eye itself, the eyelids and surrounding skin, the orbit (the opening in the skull that houses the eye) and the retina. Melanoma and lymphoma can occur in the eye area, and some cancers can spread to the eye from other areas of the body.
Certain types of eye cancer, such as retinoblastoma, affect young children, while other types can occur at any age.
Cancers of the Eyelid
Basal Cell Carcinoma: Over 90% of all cancerous eyelid tumors are basal cell carcinomas (BCCA). BCCA is a cancerous growth of skin tissue, specifically basal cells, and usually appears as small, firm, raised lumps with a lesion in the center. The lower eyelids are involved in over 70% of cases, followed by the corner of the eye, upper eyelid and the side corner of the eye.
This type of eye cancer can cause significant damage to the affected area, and it can recur (come back) to the same area or nearby if it is removed inadequately. However, these tumors generally do not spread to lymph nodes or distant organs.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma: Although this form of skin cancer occurs less often than basal cell carcinoma, it is more aggressive. It can spread to nearby lymph nodes and other parts of the body. The main treatment of these tumors is surgical removal. Radiation therapy or other treatments may be used if a large area is affected or if the cancerous area cannot be fully removed. Also, it may be used if there are other high-risk features, such as nerve involvement.
Malignant melanoma of the eyelid skin: This type of skin cancer is fairly rare and accounts for about 1% of all eyelid cancers. These lesions are usually brown or pigmented, can grow, and change in size with time, at which point they should be completely removed.
Meibomian Gland Carcinoma: also known as sebaceous gland or “sebaceous cell” carcinoma, this rare type of eye cancer mainly affects the meibomian glands of the eyelids. These are glands that normally produce the oily layer of the tear film, the liquid layer that covers the eye. Meibomian gland carcinoma, also referred to as sebaceous cell carcinoma, can be mistaken with some non-cancerous conditions like a chalazion, a small cyst more commonly known as a “sty”. If a “sty” does not heal with medical treatment or surgical drainage, a biopsy should be performed to evaluate whether it is meibomian gland carcinoma.
Uveal Melanoma: A rare eye cancer that develops within a structure in the eye called the uvea. The uvea contains pigment (color) producing cells called melanocytes. When these cells become cancerous, the cancer is called melanoma. The uvea is divided into three parts: the iris, ciliary body, and the choroid. The most common location for this type of cancer to develop is the choroid (choroidal melanoma), which is the back part of the eye under the retina.
Individuals may not have any symptoms at the time of diagnosis. Some may experience loss of vision, blurry vision, flashes and floaters (an object in the field of vision).
Conjunctival Melanoma: A rare eye cancer of the conjunctiva, the mucous membrane lining of the eyelid. While melanoma is most commonly found on the skin, it can also occur inside the eye as well as on the surface of the eye and eyelids.
Conjunctival melanomas usually develop as a pigmented (dark) area on the conjunctiva. The cancer may also arise from a freckle or nevus on the conjunctiva or can appear on healthy tissue.