The 5-year survival rate for eye cancer is 80%. With early diagnosis, the 5-year survival rate increases to 85%. However, survival rates vary depending on the size and location of the tumor, as well as the type of cancer diagnosed.
To give survival statistics for various cancer types, the American Cancer Society uses data from the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database. Depending on how far the disease has spread, the SEER database tracks the 5-year relative survival rates of eye cancer by local, regional, and distant stages:
- Local: 85% survival rate
- Regional: 71% survival rate
- Distant: 13% survival rate
Nobody can precisely predict how long somebody will live with eye cancer, because several factors are involved, including cancer type, course of treatment, and overall health. Statistics for eye cancer are more difficult to quantify than those of other more common cancers.
What is eye cancer?
Eye cancer, also called ocular cancer, refers to a variety of cancerous disorders that can affect the eyes, including:
- Intraocular (uveal) melanoma: This is the most prevalent type of eye cancer that develops in the uvea (the middle layer of the eye) that lies beneath the sclera (the white part of the eye).
- Intraocular lymphoma: This affects older people and typically affects both eyes simultaneously, forming in the vitreous of the eye; may cause impaired vision, discomfort, floaters, and light sensitivity.
- Retinoblastoma: This is an extremely rare type of childhood cancer that begins in the retinal cells and is typically identified after a parent or clinician notices something strange about a child's eye; symptoms may include lazy eye, strabismus (the eyes appear to be looking in separate directions), or visual problems.
Eye cancer is quite uncommon. There are only approximately 3,500 new cases every year, a tiny portion of the estimated 1.7 million+ new cancer cases diagnosed in the U.S. every year.
What are the symptoms of eye cancer?
Eye cancer often causes no early symptoms or warning signs, especially if it is small and not close to critical components of the eye.
Your ophthalmologist may recommend an eye exam, during which they will examine the outside of your eye for enlarged blood vessels, which could indicate the presence of a tumor inside your eye. They will also look for a dome-shaped or mushroom-shaped mass in the eye, which could either be modest and flat or high.
Then, your ophthalmologist will examine the inside of your eye to check for the following symptoms:
- Seeing bright flashes or eye floaters
- A shift in how the eyeball is seated in the socket
- Loss of vision in a segment of your field of vision
- Other vision issues, such as blurry vision or unexpected vision loss
- Black patch on the colored portion of the eye
- Modification in the appearance or size of the pupil
- Change in the eyeball's insertion into the socket
- Bulging of the eye
What tests are used to diagnose eye cancer?
To confirm a diagnosis of eye cancer, your ophthalmologist will perform a complete eye examination using tools such as a slit lamp (which delivers a focused, powerful beam of light) and an indirect ophthalmoscope (which offers a broad view of the inside of the eye).
Then, a specialist may recommend various imaging techniques to gather as much data as possible regarding the characteristics of a tumor.
- Ultrasound: This could involve using ultrasonography to assess the tumor, gauge its thickness, and calculate its density.
- Optical coherence tomography (OCT): With the help of an OCT imaging technique, the retinal layers can be illuminated to detect minute amounts of fluid, indicating tumor activity.
- MRI: MRIs, which use magnetic resonance, can also be beneficial in some cases.
- Biopsy: In some cases, your clinician will remove a small sample of the tumor cells using a fine needle biopsy. They will send the sample to a cytopathologist (a pathologist who studies cells) for examination to confirm the diagnosis.
What is the treatment for eye cancer?
The location and stage of eye cancer, your overall health, the chances of treating the disease, and the potential effect of the treatment on vision are all critical factors to consider when choosing the best treatment plan for you.
Treatment approaches may include:
When all treatment options have been tried and are no longer working to control the growth of the cancer cells, supportive care may be considered to maintain or enhance the quality of life.
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