What is eye melanoma?

eye melanoma

Eye tumors are abnormal growths found in the eyes that may be malignant or benign. Among these growths, there are a number of cases that are diagnosed by Eye Specialist in Karachi to be melanoma of the eye, a malignant tumor of the eye. Lesions of the eyes can also involve the eyelids and common benign lesions of the eyelids include simple cysts and chalazia that are excised when they become chronic and untreatable with medication alone. Read on to know more about eye melanomas:

What are melanomas of the eye?

Ocular melanoma or melanoma of the eye is a type of tumor that forms in the pigment producing cell of the eye called melanocyte. This pigment gives color to the eyes and can grow abnormally into tumors. The occurrence of this type of cancer is rare, despite being the most common cancer of the eyes in adults.

Eyes have three layers: the outermost being the sclera, followed by the uvea, and the retina being the innermost. Eye melanoma most commonly begins in the middle layer of the eye called the uvea. Occasionally, melanomas can occur in the conjunctiva as well, which is the moist membrane covering the eye.

Eye melanomas can be difficult to detect since they occur in the invisible part of the eye. In addition, there are no early signs and symptoms of this type of cancer, making it hard to detect. Only regular ocular examinations can help in early diagnosis and management.

The exact cause of eye melanomas is not discerned yet. However, it is postulated that errors in the DNA replication of the pigment cells of the eyes can result in tumorous growths resulting in melanoma formation.

What are the symptoms of eye melanoma?

Eye melanomas rarely cause early symptoms. When they do occur, these symptoms and signs include:

  • Loss of peripheral or side vision
  • Floaters or specks of dust in the eyes
  • Poor vision in the eye
  • Visible spot on the iris that grows
  • Irregular pupil shape

Where do eye melanomas occur?

As mentioned before, the middle layer of the eye is the most site of melanomas. This layer—called the uvea—is further composed of three parts:

  • The colored part of the eye visible from the front called the iris.
  • The vascular and connective tissue layer of the eye, giving nutrition to the innermost retina called choroid.
  • The part of the uvea which secretes the aqueous humor of the eye and maintains the intraocular pressure, called the ciliary body.

What are the risk factors of eye melanomas?

The risks associated with eye melanomas include:

  • Inherited skin disorders: skin disorders including dysplastic nevus syndrome, causes abnormal moles to develop, which also increase the risk of melanoma formation in the eyes.

Skin condition with abnormal pigmentation around the eyes and tissues, can also involve the uvea—called ocular melanocytosis. This condition can also predispose to the risk of eye melanoma.

  • Eye color: there is increased risk of eye melanomas in people with green and blue eye colors.
  • Age: as with most tumors, the risk of eye melanomas also increases with age.
  • Race: Caucasians have increased risk of eye melanoma in comparison to other ethnicities.
  • Genetic mutations: in people with positive family history of eye melanomas, the chances are increased due to genetic mutations.
  • Exposure to UV light: ultraviolet rays such as those found in sunlight and tanning beds increase the risk of eye melanomas.

What are the complications of eye melanomas?

Melanomas of the eyes can result in complications like:

  • Glaucoma: excessive tumor growth inside the eye can increase the intraocular pressure (IOP) and cause secondary glaucoma. This can present with eye pain, loss of peripheral vision and cupping of the optic disc.
  • Metastatic transformation: as with other tumors, eye melanomas can also have metastatic transformation and spread to the other regions of the eye.  
  • Visual loss: in the affected eye, eye melanomas can cause retinal detachment, causing complete visual loss.  

What are the treatment options?

The treatment of eye melanomas depends on the location and the size of the tumor, with radiation therapy and surgical excision by Dr Huma Kayani being the most options.

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