Eye cancer comes in different types but the main type is uveal melanoma, which develops from cells called melanocytes, which are found in the uvea (the middle layer of tissue in the wall of the eyeball). There is no known cause of uveal melanoma and it is not related to sun exposure. However, uveal melanoma is more common in those who are fair skinned and have grey/blue eyes.
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How spot the uveal melanomas
According to Ali Mearza, surgeon and director at Ophthalmic Consultants of London, the main symptom to look out for is pigmented lesions in your eyes, which are essentially brown or black spots on the white of the eye or on the iris.
“It’s a particular concern if these spots increase in size or change colour,” said Meara.
Your vision can also be affected, causing blurred vision, flashes or floaters, she notes.
Most importantly, if you have any pain, especially if it’s chronic pain, in the back of the eye, then this could be a sign of a tumour, Mearza warns.
How serious is uveal melanoma?
According to Mayo Clinic, a long-term complication that can arise from uveal melanoma is vision loss.
The health body explains: “Large eye melanomas often cause vision loss in the affected eye and can cause complications, such as retinal detachment, that also cause vision loss.”
Small eye melanomas can cause some vision loss if they occur in critical parts of the eye, and you may have difficulty seeing in the centre of your vision or on the side, notes the health site.
The worst-case scenario if the eye cancer advances is complete vision loss, warns the health body.
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Other eye-related cancers
There a number of symptoms that can also indicate eyelid cancer.
According to Mearza, the main things to look out for are swelling, discolouration, soreness, crusting or ulcerations of the skin around the eye.
As she points out, early diagnosis and treatment will often result in a cure for eyelid lesions and so it’s best to seek help early.
How to seek help
It is important to remember that eye cancer is rare so symptoms are most likely attributed to less serious conditions.
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It is still important that you report any noticeable symptoms to your GP or optometrist, advises Cancer Research UK.
An optometrist is a healthcare professional trained to examine the eye.
As Cancer Research UK explains: “They can identify conditions and diseases that affect the eye including eye cancers.
“They will then refer you to an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) for specialist treatment.”
According to Mearza, the prognosis varies depending on the size and location of the cancer.
Those involving the back of the eye typically doing worse than those involving the more visible front of the eye, she said.
Whatever the prognosis, it is important to remember that the earlier a cancer is picked up, the easier it is to treat it and the more likely the treatment is to be successful, says Cancer Research UK.
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