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About chemotherapy for eye cancer

Chemotherapy means treatment with anti cancer (cytotoxic) drugs. Chemotherapy does not usually work well for melanoma of the eyeball (uveal melanoma). Your specialist is only likely to suggest it if the melanoma comes back after treatment with surgery or radiotherapy.

Chemotherapy for lymphoma of the eye

Most people with eye lymphomas will have chemotherapy. You usually have this into your bloodstream through a drip (systemic chemotherapy). You may also have chemotherapy into the fluid around your spinal cord (intrathecal chemotherapy). You are likely to have radiotherapy as well. Doctors generally use chemotherapy to treat eye lymphoma in the same way as for other types of non Hodgkin lymphoma. 

If you only have lymphoma in your eye, you may have an injection of chemotherapy directly into your eye (intravitreal chemotherapy). You have local anaesthetic eye drops beforehand. Side effects from the injection include red eye, infection and inflammation inside the eye.

Side effects of systemic chemotherapy

Different chemotherapy drugs have different side effects. And not everyone reacts to drugs in the same way. Common side effects of chemotherapy drugs are a fall in the number of blood cells, feeling tired and run down, feeling sick, diarrhoea, a sore mouth, and hair loss or thinning. Not all of these effects will happen with every drug. Ask your doctor or nurse which side effects are most common with the drugs you will be having.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating eye cancer section.

 

 

What chemotherapy is

Chemotherapy means treatment with anti cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy works by disrupting the growth of cancer cells. The drugs circulate around the body in the bloodstream.

 

When chemotherapy is used

Chemotherapy does not usually work well for melanoma of the eyeball (uveal melanoma). Your specialist is only likely to suggest it if the melanoma comes back after treatment with surgery or radiotherapy. You are more likely to have chemotherapy to treat lymphoma of the eye.

 

Chemotherapy eye drops (topical chemotherapy)

Doctors may treat some cancers on the surface of the eye (conjunctiva), such as melanoma and squamous cell cancer, with chemotherapy eye drops. Doctors call this topical chemotherapy. They most commonly use mitomycin C or fluorouracil (5FU) chemotherapy. You may have it on its own or with other treatments such as surgery or cryotherapy (freezing treatment). Side effects of topical chemotherapy include redness, a watery eye and inflammation.

 

Chemotherapy for lymphoma of the eye

Treatment for eye lymphoma depends on the type and stage of lymphoma. Most people will have chemotherapy. You usually have this into your bloodstream through a drip (systemic chemotherapy). You may also have chemotherapy into the fluid around your spinal cord (intrathecal chemotherapy). You may have radiotherapy as well. The chemotherapy drugs that doctors use to treat lymphoma include

The links above take you straight to information about the specific side effects of these chemotherapy drugs.

In some cases, you may have high doses of chemotherapy followed by a stem cell transplant. You can look in the non Hodgkin lymphoma section for more information about chemotherapy for lymphoma.

Chemotherapy into the eye (intravitreal chemotherapy)

If you only have lymphoma in your eye, doctors may give the chemotherapy directly into the eye. You are more likely to have this for lymphoma that has come back in the eye (local recurrence). The drug doctors use most often is methotrexate. You usually have regular injections of this over a year. 

Having an injection into your eye may sound daunting, but it is a relatively simple and quick procedure. You have local anaesthetic eye drops beforehand to numb the area. You may feel a little pain when the needle first goes in. Possible side effects from the injection include red eye, infection, inflammation inside the eye and a cataract, which is when the lens becomes misty and you can't see clearly. 

Doctors are looking into giving a type of biological therapy called rituximab into the eye for lymphoma.

 

Side effects of chemotherapy

Chemotherapy drugs affect people in different ways. Not all patients have the same side effects with the same drug. Some people have very few side effects at all. It is not possible to tell how you will react until you have had a particular drug.

Common side effects of many chemotherapy drugs given into the bloodstream (systemic chemotherapy) include

Not all these side effects happen with every drug. All drugs have different side effects. The links above take you to more information about these side effects and suggestions for advice on how to deal with them. Ask your doctor or nurse which side effects are most common with the chemotherapy drugs you will be having.

Low blood cells

You will have regular blood tests to make sure you are not running short of blood cells. If you are low on red blood cells, you may need a blood transfusion, or treatment with the hormone erythropoiettin (EPO). This hormone encourages your body to make more red blood cells.

If you are low on white blood cells, you are more at risk of picking up infections. So you may need antibiotics to try to prevent infection. Your doctor will always want you to have blood tests before you have each chemotherapy treatment. If your white blood cell count is too low, your doctor may delay your next chemotherapy treatment until your white cells have recovered.

Remember to contact your doctor or chemotherapy nurse straight away if you think you have an infection. If you have a temperature of 38 degrees Centigrade or more or feel unwell, let the hospital know at once.

We have more information about your blood, bone marrow and cancer drugs.

Feeling tired and run down

Some people are able to carry on almost as normal when they are having chemotherapy. But others become very tired – this is called fatigue. As you go through your course of chemotherapy, you are more likely to feel tired and run down. If this is happening to you, try to take things slowly. If you feel like having a lie down or putting your feet up, it is helpful to do that. You will probably feel better sooner if you don't overdo it.

We have more information about how to cope with fatigue.

 

Dietary or herbal supplements and chemotherapy

We don't yet know much scientifically about how some nutritional or herbal supplements may interact with chemotherapy. Some could be harmful. It is very important to let your doctors know if you take any supplements. Or if you are prescribed therapies by alternative or complementary therapy practitioners.

Talk to your specialist about any other tablets or medicines you take while you are having active treatment. There is information about the safety of herbal, vitamin and diet supplements in the complementary therapies section 

Some studies seem to suggest that fish oil preparations may reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs. If you are taking or thinking of taking these supplements talk to your doctor to find out whether they could affect your treatment.

 

More information about chemotherapy

For detailed information about chemotherapy look at the main chemotherapy section. It explains all about the treatment, including

If you would like more information about chemotherapy, talk to your chemotherapy nurse or contact our cancer information nurses. They would be happy to help.

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Updated: 29 June 2015