Treatment options for eye cancer
This page gives you an overview of the treatments used for the different stages and types of eye cancer. You can find the following information
- A quick guide to what's on this page
- The main treatments
- Treatment for melanoma of the eyeball
- Treatment for iris melanoma
- Treatment for choroid or ciliary body melanoma
Treatment options for eye cancer
The main treatments for eye cancer are surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Your treatment will depend on the type of eye cancer you have and where it is in your eye, the size of the tumour and if it has spread (the stage), and your general health. The earlier your cancer is diagnosed, the easier it is to control and possibly cure it.
Treatment for eye melanoma
Treatment for melanoma of the eyeball is surgery or radiotherapy or both. If the tumour is large or already stopping you seeing with the eye, you will probably have surgery to remove the eye. Otherwise, your doctor may decide to remove just the tumour, or give you radiotherapy instead. For melanoma that has spread into the area around the eye or has come back, you will most likely have surgery to remove your eye and some of the tissue around the eye. Melanoma in the iris, ciliary body or choroid may not need treatment unless it starts to get bigger. The treatments are then similar to those for melanoma of the eyeball.
If the cancer has spread to another part of the body such as the liver, clinical trials are looking at biological therapies combined with other treatments.
If you need surgery to remove your eye, this can come as quite a shock. You will need time to come to terms with this change. But as long as you have sight in one eye, it may not make a huge difference to what you can and can’t do.
Treatment for lymphoma of the eye
Doctors treat lymphoma of the eye (intraocular lymphoma) in a similar way to other types of non Hodgkin lymphoma. You may have radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or both. You may have chemotherapy directly into your eye (intravitreal chemotherapy). This is more likely for lymphoma that has only come back in the eye. You are not likely to have surgery to treat intraocular lymphoma.
You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating eye cancer section.
The treatments doctors use for eye cancer are surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. The treatment you have will depend on
- The type of eye cancer you have and where it is in the eye
- The size of your tumour and how far it has grown or spread (the stage)
- Your general health and level of fitness
As with many types of cancer, the earlier your cancer is diagnosed, the easier it is to get it under control and possibly cure it. When planning your treatment, your doctors will try their hardest to save as much of your sight as they can.
Treatment for eye melanoma is surgery or radiotherapy, or both.
Whether you have surgery or radiotherapy depends on
- Where the tumour is
- The size of the tumour and
- How much it is affecting your sight
If the tumour is large or already stopping you from seeing out of the eye, you will probably have surgery to remove the eye. This operation is called an enucleation. Otherwise, your doctor may decide to
- Remove just the tumour or
- Give you radiotherapy
It is important to ask your doctor questions – as many as you need to. Together you can decide which treatment is best for you.
It can come as quite a shock if you need to have surgery to remove your eye. You will need time to come to terms with this change. But as long as you have sight in one eye, it may not make much difference to what you can and can’t do. You may still be able to drive, for instance. It may help to know that many people who have had this surgery rate their quality of life as highly as people who have kept their eye.
We have information about how to cope with changes to your sight.
This type of cancer can be so slow growing that you don’t need treatment, especially if you don’t have any symptoms. But your doctor will give you regular check ups to make sure the cancer is not getting bigger. If the tumour is growing, or if it is causing symptoms, you will normally have one of the following operations to
- Remove the iris (iridectomy)
- Remove the iris and the tissues around the clear layer covering the front of the eye (the cornea) – this operation is called an iridotrabeculectomy
- Remove the iris and the ciliary body (the muscle that focuses the eye) – this operation is called a iridocyclectomy
- Remove the whole eye (enucleation)
For some iris melanomas your doctor may suggest radiotherapy.
If melanoma of the choroid or ciliary body is not getting bigger you may not need treatment straight away. You will have regular check ups to make sure the tumour has not started to grow.
If you do need treatment, for small melanomas you may have one of the following
For medium sized melanomas, you may have one of the above treatments or radiotherapy followed by surgery to remove the eye.
Surgery or radiotherapy are the treatments for large melanomas. If you need surgery, this will usually mean removing the eye.
If your tumour has spread outside the eye, to the optic nerve or the eye socket, it is called an extraocular melanoma. You may hear your doctor call this extraocular extension. It is a more advanced stage and you will probably need surgery to remove your eye and some of the surrounding tissue to make sure all the cancer is gone. You might have radiotherapy as well.
Sometimes ocular melanoma can spread to another part of the body such as the liver. Because ocular melanoma is rare it is hard to do trials to find the best treatment. But you may have chemotherapy or biological therapies, or a combination of treatments. On the eye melanoma research page you can find information about research into melanoma that has spread.
If the cancer has come back in your eyeball (intraocular) you will most likely have surgery to remove your eye (enucleation). You may also have radiotherapy after surgery to kill off any cancer cells left behind.
If the cancer has come back in the tissues around the eyeball (extraocular melanoma) or has spread to another part of the body such as the liver, you may have chemotherapy or biological therapy, or both. Clinical trials are looking at how helpful biological therapy may be in treating melanoma of the eye. You can find information about biological therapies for eye melanoma on the eye cancer research page.
Doctors call lymphoma of the eye intraocular lymphoma. They treat intraocular lymphoma in a similar way as other types of non Hodgkin lymphoma. You may have radiotherapy, chemotherapy or both. For some types of non Hodgkin lymphoma, doctors may use a type of biological therapy. You are not likely to have surgery to treat intraocular lymphoma.
To treat lymphoma of the eye your doctor may suggest you have external radiotherapy to your eye and brain. This can get rid of the cancer in the eye and also help stop it coming back in the brain or spinal cord. We have more information about radiotherapy to treat intraocular lymphoma and its possible side effects.
Most people with lymphoma of the eye will have chemotherapy. This is usually through a drip into your vein (systemic chemotherapy). You may also have chemotherapy injected into the fluid around your spinal cord (intrathecal chemotherapy). You might have this treatment along with radiotherapy. You may have chemotherapy put into your eye (intravitreal chemotherapy). This is more likely for lymphoma that has only come back in your eye.
We have more information about chemotherapy for intraocular lymphoma.
Most people with eye cancers are referred to a specialist centre for their treatment. These centres provide a range of treatments and offer the one most suitable for you. For some types of eye cancer there may be only one treatment that is suitable for you. Or there may be several that are possible for you to have. The eye surgeon and the specialist nurse will explain your treatment choices in detail. They will talk through the potential benefits and complications of each before a final decision is made. Occasionally, it may help to get a second opinion from another eye cancer specialist. Not all treatments are available at every specialist centre, so you may need to travel to another hospital for your treatment.
Rated 3 out of 5 based on 9 votes
Question about cancer? Contact our information nurse team