Ocular Melanoma Risks, Symptoms, and Treatment

Ocular melanoma is a specific type of tumor (“-oma”) located in or on the eye that forms from the cells that give your body parts their color. These cells are called melanocytes. The eye area is often referred to using the adjective “ocular”, hence: ocular melanoma. It is also called uveal melanoma since these cancerous growths form in the uvea of your eye. The uvea includes the ciliary body, choroid, and iris.

Risk Factors

While researchers like Kang Zhang work to understand the root cause behind ocular melanomas, certain risk factors are known. People of fair complexion and hair color have a higher risk than other groups, though there is an interesting lack of connection between UV exposure and ocular cancer. Little else is currently known about what increases a person’s risk of developing ocular tumors. On the bright side, this type of cancer is quite rare, with 1 in 6 million odds. The rarity likely contributes to the lack of research on the condition, given a lack of subjects to study.

Symptoms

When the tumor is on the iris, you normally notice sooner than if it formed on the choroid or ciliary body. The mass can distort the shape of your eye or simply block incoming light, resulting in vision loss, strange flashes, and the dark spots familiar to anyone who has been unexpectedly exposed to bright light. Luckily, even before symptoms emerge, your eye doctor can often find the tumor during a normal exam. Thus, it is usually wise to keep up with regular eye checkups.

Treatment

As with many eye disorders, the treatment for ocular melanomas must be precise and delicate. Precision lasers are often employed to cauterize cancerous tumors and prevent further spreading while allowing the doctor to avoid damaging the rest of the eye. Another popular method involves surgically attaching radioactive material to your eye to specifically target and kill the cancer cells. For extreme cases, part or all of your eye may need to be removed and/or replaced, due to the tumor’s size or location. As with any type of cancer, follow-up treatment will be important to make sure you do not experience a resurgence of cancerous activity. With any problem involving your eye, your vision may be damaged after treatment, which will necessitate follow-up care with your ophthalmologist.

Though ocular melanomas are rare, there are many other eye problems that might sneak up on you, so be sure to take care of yourself. If you think you may be experiencing symptoms indicating an underlying problem with your eye, don’t hesitate to seek professional examination and advice.

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