How Cancer Can Affect the Eyes - Specialist Ophthalmologist
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How Cancer Can Affect the Eyes

How Cancer Can Affect the Eyes

Cancer is a collection of related diseases. Cancer occurs when some of the body’s cells begin to divide without stopping and spread into the surrounding tissues.  

Skin cancer

Skin cancer can attack the eyelids, especially in fair-skinned people. Certain cancers can also arise on the front of the eye called the cornea and conjunctiva (white of the eye).  Any red, pigmented, or white lesion on the eye surface which is new or growing, should be checked by an ophthalmologist. Sometimes, a biopsy needs to be taken for suspicious areas.  Cancer can arise inside the eye. This is usually painless, and only sometimes affects vision, depending on the size of the tumour.


Melanoma can arise in any pigmented part of the body. In the eye, the iris (coloured part of the eye), the conjunctiva, the skin, and the choroid (the layer under the retina inside the eye) are all susceptible to melanoma. Usually from a nevus or freckle. If melanoma is seen in a retinal exam or a thorough eye exam, treatment includes surgery and/or radiation. Rare cases which are large will require removal of the eye itself. Melanoma can metastasize, so it is very important to act as soon as possible.


Leukaemia can cause bleeding and other damage to the blood vessels in the retina. Rarely, a mass can from behind the eye as well.


Lymphoma can arise inside the eye, usually in the vitreous. The vitreous is the jelly-like clear substance in the back of the eye, in front of the retina.  Persistent inflammation of the vitreous is suspicious for lymphoma in the elderly. Thick floaters are sometimes seen by the patient. Treatment includes radiation and chemotherapy.  Also, an MRI of the brain may reveal spread to the brain.


Chemotherapy can affect the eye. Dry eye and advancing of cataracts are the most common side effects of chemotherapy. Lubrication of the eyes with artificial tears is recommended. Any decreasing vision should be reported to the oncologist and your ophthalmologist. Radiation near the eye can cause Inflammation of the skin, conjunctiva, and cornea.  It can also cause small areas of bleeding on the retina.

There are other more rare cancers which can also arise in the eye, most commonly in the choroid or retina itself.  The cornea, iris, conjunctiva and tear drainage system are also rarely involved. Symptoms would include decreased vision, retinal detachment, and bleeding in the retina, or on the skin or from the tear duct in the eye.

These are the most common cancers and can metastasise to the eye, even years after remission.  Any vision changes should be reported to your doctor and should be followed up with an exam by an ophthalmologist.

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