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The stages of eye cancer

Men and women discussing eye cancer

This page has information about the stages and grades of eye melanoma. Lymphomas of the eye (intraocular lymphomas) don’t have their own staging system because they are harder to categorise. So doctors may sometimes use the general staging system for lymphomas

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The stages of eye cancer

The stage of a cancer tells the doctor how far a cancer has grown or spread. It is important because the stage often decides the treatment. The tests you have to diagnose your cancer will give some information about the stage. But your doctor may not be able to tell you the exact stage until you have surgery.

Eye cancer stages

For eye melanoma, most doctors use a very simple staging system that takes into account the thickness and width of the tumour. Tumours are simply classed as small, medium or large.

Advanced stages of eye melanoma

Advanced eye melanoma means that the cancer has grown into the tissues around the eye, or has come back since it was first treated. If ocular melanoma has spread into tissues around the eye, such as the optic nerve or the eye socket, this is called extraocular extension. 

Recurrent melanoma of the eye means that a melanoma has come back after it was first treated. It may have come back in your eye or another part of your body, such as the liver.

Lymphomas of the eye don’t have their own staging system because they are harder to categorise.

 

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

 

 

What staging is

The stage of a cancer means how big it is and whether it has spread. It is important because the stage often decides the treatment. The tests and scans you have to diagnose eye cancer give some information about the stage. But your doctor may not be able to tell you the exact stage until you have surgery.

 

Stages of melanoma of the eye (ocular melanoma)

There are different ways of staging cancers. Staging systems include the TNM system, which looks at the tumour size (T), whether the cancer has spread into lymph nodes (N) and whether it has spread (metastasised – M). For many types of cancer, doctors also use a number system. 

For eye melanoma, most doctors use a very simple staging system. They stage them according to the thickness and width of the tumour, using the terms small, medium and large. These mean

  • Small – the melanoma is between 1 mm and 2.5 mm thick, and up to 5mm wide
  • Medium – the melanoma is between 2.5 and 10mm thick, and between 5mm and 16 mm wide
  • Large – the melanoma is more than 10 mm thick, or more than 16mm wide

Sometimes the stage of your cancer may sound a bit confusing. Staging can be difficult to understand. If you’re unsure about the stage of your cancer and would like to know more, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor or specialist nurse.

Knowing your cancer stage may help you understand why your doctors have chosen a particular treatment for you. There is a list of questions for your doctor at the end of this section that may help you. Also, there is detailed information about staging cancers in the about cancer section 

 

Advanced stages of eye melanoma

Advanced ocular melanoma means that the cancer has either

  • Grown into tissues around the eye or
  • Come back since it was first treated

If your cancer has grown into the tissues around the eye, it is called extraocular extension. This means that the melanoma has spread into the optic nerve or the eye socket. It is a more advanced stage of cancer than if it was only inside the eyeball.

Recurrent melanoma of the eye means a melanoma that has come back after it was first treated. It may have come back in your eye or another part of your body, such as the liver.

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Updated: 24 September 2013