What tests will I have for eye cancer?

You usually have a number of tests to diagnose eye cancer. These help the doctor decide whether you have eye cancer and if so, the best treatment for you.

The tests you have depend on the type of eye cancer your doctor thinks you might have. 

There are different types of eye cancer. This includes:

  • melanoma of the eye
  • lymphoma of the eye (ocular lymphoma)

Tests you might have to diagnose eye cancer

Your doctor will explain what tests you need. Do ask questions if you’re not sure about anything. Common tests to diagnose eye cancer include:

  • an eye examination
  • ultrasound scan
  • fluorescein angiogram (FA)
  • a biopsy of the eye
  • blood tests

Other scans

Depending on your situation, you might have other scans such as an MRI scan or a CT scan. These scans help the doctor to find out whether the cancer has spread:

  • outside of the eye
  • to nearby lymph nodes
  • elsewhere in the body

Tests you might have to diagnose lymphoma of the eye

You might also have some other tests if your doctor thinks that you might have lymphoma of the eye.

PET-CT scan

Your specialist may ask you to have a PET-CT scan. This is a combination of a PET scan and a CT scan. This is usually done in the Nuclear Medicine department. A PET-CT scan takes CT pictures of the structures of your body. At the same time, a mildly radioactive drug shows up areas of your body where the cells are more active than normal.

The scanner combines both of these types of information. This allows your doctor to see any changes in the activity of cells. And know exactly where the changes are happening. A PET-CT scan can check whether there are any cancer cells in the lymph nodes close to the eye or elsewhere in your body.

Lumbar puncture

Your doctor may suggest that you have a lumbar puncture. In this test, the doctor puts a thin needle into your back. And removes a sample of the fluid that circulates around your brain and spinal cord (the cerebrospinal fluid or CSF).

Bone marrow test

You may have a bone marrow test to check for any lymphoma that may have spread to your bone marrow.

A doctor or specialist nurse removes a sample of bone marrow cells to look at under a microscope. This is usually from the hip. 

Tests you might have to diagnose melanoma of the eye

Liver ultrasound

Melanoma of the eye can spread to the liver. So you might have an ultrasound scan of the liver to check for any cancer spread.

Testing for genetic information

If you diagnosed with eye melanoma, your surgeon may ask a pathologist to examine the tumour after your operation. They look for abnormalities of the chromosomes in the tumour cells. This is known as cytogenetic testing. It helps give doctors information about the chances of your cancer coming back or spreading. Your doctor or specialist nurse will talk to you about this. And ask if you would like to know this type of information.

After your tests

After your tests for eye cancer, you may need to wait a while to get the results. Understandably, this is a very anxious time for most people.

While you are waiting for results it may help to talk to your specialist nurse, or a close friend or relative about how you are feeling. Or you may want to contact a cancer support group to talk to someone who has been through the same experiences.

You can also contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
Last reviewed: 
30 Sep 2021
Next review due: 
30 Sep 2024
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