Eye cancer

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Treatments for eye cancer

If you have eye cancer, your healthcare team will create a treatment plan just for you. It will be based on your health and specific information about the cancer. When deciding which treatments to offer for eye cancer, your healthcare team will consider:

  • the type of eye cancer
  • the size and location of the tumour in the eye
  • whether or not the cancer has spread outside of the eye
  • the effect the treatment will have on your vision
  • your age and general health
  • your personal preferences

The goal of treating eye cancer is to prevent it from spreading and to save your vision whenever possible. You may be offered one or more of the following treatments for eye cancer.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is a common treatment for eye cancer. It may be used as the main treatment or before or after surgery. The types of radiation therapy that are most often used to treat eye cancer are:

  • brachytherapy
  • external beam radiation therapy

Surgery

Surgery is a common treatment for eye cancer. Depending on the stage and size of the tumour, you may have one of the following types of surgery.

Eye resection is done to remove the tumour and a small amount of healthy tissue around the tumour.

Enucleation is surgery to remove the eyeball and part of the optic nerve. It may be used to remove large tumours in the eye or when other treatments haven’t worked.

Orbital exenteration is surgery that removes the parts inside the eye socket (orbit). This includes the eyeball, eyelid, muscles, nerves and fat.

Mohs surgery removes the tumour in layers. Each layer is looked at in the lab until no cancer cells are seen. Mohs surgery is sometimes used to treat a tumour in the eyelid or conjunctiva.

Cryosurgery uses extreme cold to freeze and destroy tissue. It is sometimes used to treat a tumour in the conjunctiva or eyelid.

Laser surgery uses a laser beam to destroy abnormal cells. It is sometimes used to treat small tumours in the eye.

Liver resection is sometimes done if eye cancer has spread to the liver. A liver resection removes the tumour and a healthy margin of tissue around the tumour.

Reconstructive surgery is sometimes done to help your eye to move normally and improve how your face looks (your appearance) after surgery to remove a tumour in the eyelid.

Surgery is done to place a brachytherapy plaque in the eye. Brachytherapy for eye cancer uses radioactive seeds attached to a circular piece of metal (called a plaque) to deliver radiation to the eye tumour.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is often used to treat lymphoma of the eye and is sometimes used to treat melanoma of the eye.

Active surveillance (watchful waiting)

In active surveillance (watchful waiting), the healthcare team watches for signs and symptoms to appear. The doctor will take pictures of the eye to see if the tumour is starting to grow. Active surveillance is sometimes used when there are no signs or symptoms, the tumour is small and doesn’t appear to be growing or there is a low risk of the cancer spreading. It may also be an option for people who are older with other serious medical conditions or who have a tumour in the only useful eye. You will begin treatment if there are signs that the cancer is starting to grow.

Targeted therapy

Targeted therapy uses drugs to target specific molecules (such as proteins) on or inside cancer cells to stop the growth and spread of cancer. It is sometimes used to treat eye cancer. Targeted therapy drugs used to treat eye cancer include:

  • rituximab (Rituxan)
  • ibritumomab (Zevalin)
  • bevacizumab (Avastin)
  • ranibizumab (Lucentis)
  • imatinib (Gleevec)
  • sorafenib (Nexavar)

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy uses the immune system to help destroy cancer cells. Interferon alfa-2b (Intron A) is an immunotherapy drug that is sometimes used to treat a tumour of the eyelid or lymphoma of the eye.

If you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment

You may want to consider a type of care to make you feel better without treating the cancer itself. This may be because the cancer treatments don’t work anymore, they’re not likely to improve your condition or they may cause side effects that are hard to cope with. There may also be other reasons why you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment.

Talk to your healthcare team. They can help you choose care and treatment for advanced cancer.

Follow-up care

Follow-up after treatment is an important part of cancer care. You will need to have regular follow-up visits after treatment has finished. These visits allow your healthcare team to monitor your progress and recovery from treatment.

Clinical trials

A few clinical trials in Canada are open to people with eye cancer. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, find and treat cancer. Find out more about clinical trials.

Questions to ask about treatment

To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about treatment.

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