What is ocular melanoma?Ocular melanoma is a rare form of cancer that affects the eye. In most cases, ocular melanoma develops in a part of the eye known as the uveal tract (uveal melanoma). The uveal tract is a pigmented layer of tissue that is found beneath the white of the eye (sclera) and consists of pigmented cells and blood vessels. Eye cancer can also develop in the pigmented cells of the choroid (choroidal melanoma). The choroid containing connective tissues, and sits between the retina of the eye. Ocular melanoma is a cancerous tumour which can often spread to other parts of the body, most often the liver. Around 50% of ocular melanoma patients experience spread to the liver, which can cause a variety of other symptoms. It should be noted that ocular melanoma behaves differently to skin melanoma and is a lot rarer. Cancer in the eye cannot travel to the skin and cancer in the skin cannot travel to the eyes.
Ocular melanoma risk factors:Although nobody knows why ocular melanoma tumours form, there are several common risk factors associated with the cancer:
- There is an increased risk of tumours developing in people with fair skin and blue eyes.
- People with atypical mole syndrome are more at risk of developing ocular melanoma.
- Nevi are discoloured growths or marks that can appear on the eye. These are often referred to as “eye freckles”. Nevi can increase the risk of ocular tissue becoming cancerous.
Symptoms of ocular melanoma:Ocular melanoma may or may not cause symptoms depending on its location on the eye, and whether the tumour is affecting the retina. This can often result in the tumour remaining undetected for long periods of time. It is important to get a checkup from a doctor if you notice symptoms occurring. This can be the difference between Common symptoms associated with ocular melanoma include:
- Blurry vision.
- Double vision (also known as diplopia).
- Feelings of irritation, pain, or pressure in the eye.
- Loss of vision or reduced vision in the eye.
Treatments for ocular melanoma:There are several different treatment options available for ocular melanoma. The availability and effectiveness of these treatments will depend on the location, size and symptoms of the tumour. Below is a list of common treatments for ocular melanoma:
Surgery:In a surgery, an ophthalmologist will attempt to remove the tumour in your eye as well as some surrounding tissue. The removal of surrounding tissue is done to reduce the risk of the tumour growing back. Removal of a tumour in the eye can potentially affect its function and appearance. The size and location of the tumour will determine what parts of the eye will need to be removed. Below are some common surgical options:
- Iridectomy – Removal of part of the iris.
- Iridocyclectomy – Removal of part of the iris and ciliary body.
- Sclerouvectomy- Removal the choroidal tumor while keeping rest of the eye intact.
- Enucleation – Removal of the entire eye.
Radiation therapy:In radiation therapy, high energy x-rays or particles are used to target and destroy tumours. The type of radiation therapy administered will depend on where the cancer in your eye is. Radiation therapy can greatly decrease the size of a tumour or destroy it. However, there are often side effects. Side effects also depend on what type of radiation therapy is used. Because of the side effects, doctors will usually recommend surgery over radiation treatment. Common side effects of radiation therapy in the eye include:
- Loss of eyelashes
- Dry eyes
- Retinopathy (the development of abnormal blood vessels in the eye).
- Neovascular glaucoma – where abnormal blood vessels block the flow of fluid to the eye.