Ocular melanoma is the most common type of eye cancer, but it is very rare compared with other cancers. It develops from melanocytes, a type of cells inside the eye that produce melanin. Melanin is a pigment that is found not only in the skin and hair but also in the middle layer of the eye (uvea). The amount and quality of this pigment determine specific color (such as blue, brown and black) of the iris (part of the uvea).
The survival rate for cancers is often expressed as a five-year relative survival rate. For example, if the five-year relative survival rate for a specific stage of eye cancer is 70%, it means that people who have that cancer are, on average, about 70% as likely as people without the disease to live for at least 5 years after being diagnosed.
Survival rates differ depending on the stage of cancer. Stages have been defined by the Surveillance and End Results (SEER) Program of the National Cancer Institute (NCI).
|SEER stage*||Five-year relative survival rate (%)|
|All SEER stages combined||82%|
*SEER stage: Stage of cancer as determined by the Surveillance and End Results (SEER) Program of the National Cancer Institute (NCI); Localized: Cancer that is present in the eye only; Regional: Cancer that has spread to the adjacent structures or lymph nodes; Distant: Cancer that has spread to the distant organs.
Survival rates for cancer are often used as predictors of how long patients can live beyond a certain number of years (5 and 10 years) after the diagnosis. However, these may vary depending on patients’ age, their overall health and response to treatments. Patients should discuss all these factors with their doctor to know about their life expectancy.
Remember, survival rates are calculated at a particular point in time. Therefore, it may be possible that advances in treatments in the later years might have improved survival rates. Hence, patients must always ask their doctor even after they know general survival rates.
How is ocular melanoma treated?
After the diagnosis of ocular melanoma, the doctor will try to figure the extent of cancer that has spread in the eye and to other regions in the body. This is known as cancer staging. Treatment will depend upon the stage of cancer.
Various treatments adopted for ocular melanoma include:
- Surgeries: These involve the removal of:
- Cancerous structure of the eye (and may include removal of the entire eyeball).
- Eyeball and some surrounding structures such as parts of the eyelid and muscles, nerves and other tissues inside the eye socket.
- Radiation therapy: This therapy involves focusing beams of high-energy waves on the cancerous portion of the eye to destroy the cancerous cells. It can be administered in any of the ways that include:
- Laser therapy: This therapy involves using either infrared light or high-energy light beams to burn the cancerous tissue. It is especially used when surgery or radiation is not possible.
- Chemotherapy: This therapy involves anticancer medications that may be injected into the eye, into the vein or taken as oral pills. Ocular melanoma most often does not respond to chemotherapy medications. These medications are generally used only when they have become widespread.
- Targeted drugs: This therapy involves using drugs that target a particular weakness (or process) that is involved in the development of ocular melanoma.
- Immunotherapy: This therapy involves making use of drugs that involve the immune system to fight cancer.
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