Melanoma is a type of cancer that develops in the cells that produce melanin — the pigment that gives your skin its color. Your eyes also have melanin-producing cells and can develop melanoma. Eye melanoma is also called ocular melanoma.
Most eye melanomas form in the part of the eye you can't see when looking in a mirror. This makes eye melanoma difficult to detect. In addition, eye melanoma typically doesn't cause early signs or symptoms.
Treatment is available for eye melanomas. Treatments for some small eye melanomas may not interfere with your vision. However, treatment for large eye melanomas typically causes some vision loss.
Where eye melanoma occurs
Eye melanoma can occur in the eye's choroid — the layer of blood vessels and connective tissue between the white part of the eye (sclera) and the back wall of the eye (retina). ...
Eye melanoma may not cause signs and symptoms. When they do occur, signs and symptoms of eye melanoma can include:
When to see a doctor
It's not clear what causes eye melanoma, also called ocular melanoma. Doctors know that eye melanoma occurs when errors develop in the DNA of healthy eye cells. The DNA errors tell the cells to grow and multiply out of control, so the mutated cells go on living when they would normally die. The mutated cells accumulate in the eye and form an eye melanoma.
Where eye melanoma occurs
Eye melanoma can also occur on the most outer layer on the front of the eye (conjunctiva), in the socket that surrounds the eyeball and on the eyelid, though these types of eye melanoma are very rare.
Risk factors for primary melanoma of the eye include:
Complications of eye melanoma may include:
Preparing for your appointment
Start by seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you. If your doctor suspects you have an eye problem, you may be referred to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist).
If you're suspected to have an eye melanoma, your doctor may refer you to an eye surgeon who specializes in treating eye melanoma. This specialist can explain your treatment options and may refer you to other specialists depending on the treatments you choose.
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready, and understand what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions can help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For eye melanoma, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
Tests and diagnosis
To diagnose eye melanoma, your doctor may recommend:
Determining whether cancer has spread
Treatments and drugs
Your eye melanoma treatment options will depend on the location and size of the eye melanoma, as well as your overall health and your preferences.
Waiting to treat small eye melanomas
The radiation is usually delivered to the tumor by placing a radioactive plaque on your eye, directly over the tumor in a procedure called brachytherapy. The plaque is held in place with temporary stitches. The plaque looks similar to a bottle cap and contains several radioactive seeds. The plaque remains in place for four to five days before it's removed.
The radiation can also come from a machine that directs the radioactive particles to your eye (external beam radiation or teletherapy). This type of radiation therapy is often administered over several days.
Coping and support
Coping with vision changes
Having only one eye affects your ability to judge distance. And it may be more difficult to be aware of things around you, especially things occurring on the side without vision.
Ask your doctor for a referral to a support group or an occupational therapist, who can help devise strategies for coping and adjusting to your altered vision.
It's not clear whether eye melanoma can be prevented. There's little evidence to suggest that ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun may increase the risk of eye melanoma. To protect your eye from UV light, eye doctors recommend wearing sunglasses to protect your eyes. But while sunglasses aren't proven to prevent eye melanoma, they may help reduce your risk of other eye conditions, such as cataracts.
When selecting sunglasses, look for ones that have:
Last Updated: 2010-06-05
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