Be on the Lookout for Ocular Tumors

August 31, 2021

Just the name itself is scary – ocular tumors. If you’re like most people, you’re getting a case of the shivers right now just thinking about it. The thought of losing their eyesight is one of the biggest fears most people have – right behind the fear of getting a life-threatening disease. The bad news is that ocular tumors can fall into both of these categories. What is even more frightening is the fact that most tumors appearing in the eye have few - if any – noticeable symptoms.

The good news is that a regular vision exam can greatly reduce the effects of ocular tumors. Most ocular tumors are discovered by the patient’s eye doctor during routine vision tests. By scheduling a regular eye exam, you can help protect not only your vision, but your overall health. If you haven’t done it already, now would be a great time to search for an “eye doctor near me”!

Ocular tumors are a collection of cells that go haywire, growing at an unusual rate. Some are benign (non-cancerous) and may present some issues with the quality of your sight, but others will be malignant (cancerous) and can be life-threatening. Let’s take a moment to review some of the most common tumors found in the human eye.


Benign Tumors

These tumors commonly grow on the eyelid or on the wall of the eye. Eyelid tumors and growths on the skin around the eye are very common, especially as we age. They are typically the result of exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, wind, and environmental irritants. These tumors can be removed with chemical treatments, cauterization or surgery. When tumors appear on the conjunctiva, the clear tissue that protects the white of the eye, or within the eye itself, they are more difficult to see. Most of the time only your eye doctor will be able to see them. These benign tumors may get larger, but they won’t spread to other parts of your body. Some studies indicate that these types of tumors may also be caused by certain viruses. These types of tumors tend to develop slowly over time, so the sudden appearance of bumps, growths or lesions tends to be an infection or another source of inflammation.

Pigmented spots or lesions within the eye caused by an overgrowth of cells are called choroidal nevi. The technical name for this “freckling” condition is congenital hypertrophy of the retinal pigment epithelial layer, or CHRPE. For the most part, these dark spots are benign, but in a small number of cases, they can eventually become cancerous. If your optometrist spots one or two areas of CHRPE, it isn’t typically a cause for great concern. However, if there are multiple lesions present, CHRPE can be associated with an increased risk of colon cancer. Other benign tumors are the result of abnormal growth of blood vessels within the eye, also known as hemangiomas. Choroidal hemangiomas are the most common, and may cause vision changes or redness. Once benign tumors within the eye are determined to be benign, they are most often left untreated, but closely monitored for changes that can negatively affect the patient’s vision.


Malignant Tumors

Unlike their less-threatening cousins, malignant eye tumors can cause death when left untreated. In adults, many malignant eye tumors are secondary cancers that have spread from the lung, bowel, breast or prostate. Generally, a primary cancer does not develop in the eye, but when it does, most common type is ocular melanoma. On average, 390 people per year will die from ocular melanoma. You can learn more about the statistical side of this illness here, including information on different varieties of ocular melanoma, treatment windows and eventual success rates.

Malignant tumors can also develop in the adnexa (eyelids and tear glands) or in the orbit of the eye, including the tissues surrounding the eyeball, the muscles controlling the movement of the eye and the nerves attached to the eyeball. Malignant melanomas usually develop from moles near the eye, so it’s important to have them examined regularly. Although uncommon, symptoms of eye cancer can include:

• Light flashes

• Visual distortion

• Floaters

• Changes to the shape of the pupil

• Glaucoma

• Vision loss

There are various ways of diagnosing and treating ocular tumors. This easy-to-read primer will give you important information on ways your optometrist might go about taking care of these critical issues.

Even more disturbing is the possibility of ocular tumors in children. Retinoblastoma is a form of ocular cancer caused by a genetic mutation. During the early stages of development, the cells in the eyes of the fetus multiply to create new cells. These cells are called retinoblasts while this process is occurring, but they soon stop multiplying and grow into mature retinal cells. If the retinoblasts overpopulate during development, a malignant tumor will form, called a retinoblastoma. If a retinoblastoma is not treated, it will grow in size and fill much of the eyeball. The tumor can also break apart and cause tumors in other parts of the eye. If the tumors stop the fluid from circulating in the eye, glaucoma could be the result. If the tumors are not discovered in time, they can spread to other areas of the body, including the optic nerve and the brain. The cancer may even leave the optical system entirely, moving into the lymph nodes, liver and bones. While it’s rare, medulloepithelioma is also found in children. This form of ocular cancer rarely spreads beyond the eye, and can cause pain and vision loss. It is almost always treated by removing the affected eye. When it comes to ocular cancer in children, you can learn more from the American Cancer Society here.

There’s another benefit to having your eyes examined regularly – your optometrist can also help locate other dangerous tumors as well. Many brain tumors also have few noticeable symptoms and can be discovered when a thorough eye examination is done. Laura’s story is an excellent example of how our body’s systems are all connected, and how an irregularity in one system can lead to a crucial discovery in another.

If you haven’t been to a first-class Houston eye doctor in some time, call Pro-Optix Eye Care at 713-360-7095 today to make an appointment. A screening for ocular tumors won’t only help protect your vision – it can save your life!


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