Cancer comes in more than 100 types and is usually named for the tissue or organ where cancer forms. So when you have lung or breast cancer, it’s relatively easy to know which part of your body has this disease.
Cancer can occur anywhere in your body and even spread to other body parts. Even rare types of cancer, like mesothelioma, can become widespread, depending on the stage of this disease.
Is there a connection between cancer and eye problems like retinal deterioration? If you get diagnosed with cancer, is there a risk of developing eye problems too? How can you manage these conditions?
This article explores the relationship between cancer and how this disease is associated with retinal deterioration.
Additionally, the write-up explains the risk of having eye problems when you develop cancer and how to manage these ailments.
Melanoma is a kind of cancer that occurs in cells that become melanocytes. These specialized cells produce melanin that gives color to your skin.
While most melanomas appear on the skin, some can also affect other pigmented tissues, like the eye.
The retina is a part of your eye that’s light-sensitive and transparent. When certain cancers affect the retina, they usually occur in the choroid, the thick layer of blood vessels supplying the retina.
One type of cancer that can affect your eye is choroidal melanoma, which affects the choroid’s pigment-producing cells called melanocytes.
Choroidal melanoma is a common type of cancer affecting the eye. This cancer happens most frequently between ages 55 and 60 and is common among white people.
In its early stages, choroidal melanoma doesn’t immediately interfere with your vision. But as the disease progresses, it can blur your vision or cause retinal detachment, wherein the retina lifts away from the back of your eye. Other symptoms include:
- Flashes of light
- A curtain or veil across your field of vision
- A sudden change or increase in floaters, those specks or gel-like things that move across your visual field
Another cancer that affects the eye is intraocular or uveal melanoma. This cancer is a rare kind with no immediate symptoms. Still, people with fair skin and light-colored eyes are usually at a higher risk for this disease.
The uvea is the eye wall’s middle layer. It consists of the iris (the colored part of the eye), choroid, and ciliary body, which helps change the lens shape when focusing. Although the retina isn’t included, the choroid is located right behind it.
You may have intraocular melanoma if you have the following symptoms:
- Blurred vision
- A dark spot on the iris
- A change in the pupil’s size or shape
- A change in the eyeball’s position in the eye socket
Some cancers called choroidal metastases can spread to the choroid from other body parts. The choroid has a rich blood supply, making this part a place where cancers from other body parts can spread.
Breast cancer is a common cause of choroidal metastasis in women. In men, prostate and lung cancers are the most likely culprits.
One study showed that lung cancer can cause eye metastases and that chemotherapy may help treat this eye disease.
Like choroidal melanoma, choroidal metastases don’t show symptoms until the disease has advanced. Such symptoms include mild to severe vision loss, flashes of light, floaters, blurred vision, and a veil across your field of vision.
An ophthalmologist can check your eye for symptoms. Other tests, like those recommended by an oncologist (a cancer doctor), can also help discover the presence of tumors.
For choroidal melanoma, treatments include laser, radiation therapy, or radioactive implant when the tumor is small. But for large tumors, you may need to have the affected eye removed.
For intraocular melanoma, the doctor can recommend any of the following approaches depending on the diagnosis:
- Surgery: Removal of the tumor or eye
- Watchful waiting: Close monitoring of the patient
- Radiation therapy: Use of high-energy X-rays or radiation to destroy cancer cells
- Photocoagulation: Use of a laser to destroy blood vessels in the eye to kill the tumor
- Thermotherapy: Use of heat from a laser to destroy the cancer cells
Clinical trials are ongoing to find out the effectiveness of new intraocular melanoma treatments, which are also being studied for possible side effects.
For choroidal metastases, doctors can do an eye exam using ultrasonography, which utilizes sounds to produce images. They can also perform a biopsy, a process of removing a sample tissue to diagnose the disease. Once the results are out, the doctor can use chemotherapy or radiation therapy for treatment.
No one entirely knows what causes eye cancers, so the ways to prevent these diseases haven’t been established.
Still, there’s a relationship between sunlight and melanomas affecting the skin, so there’s a possibility of reducing your cancer risk by limiting your exposure to sunlight. Consider covering yourself with protective clothing, hats, and sunscreen.
The American Cancer Society also recommends wearing sunglasses that protect you from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Sunglasses that absorb 99% to 100% of ultraviolet rays can provide the best protection for your eyes and surrounding skin.
Scientists haven’t proven that sunlight has anything to do with eye melanomas. Still, some doctors believe sunglasses can help reduce eye melanoma risk.
To know more about preventing and treating cancer and its symptoms that can lead to eye diseases like retinal deterioration, ring up the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 or the National Cancer Institute at 1-800-422-6237.
- What Is Cancer?
- Cancers Affecting the Retina
- Intraocular (Eye) Melanoma—Patient Version
- Intraocular (Uveal) Melanoma Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version
- Lung Cancer and Eye Metastases
- Can Eye Cancer Be Prevented?