Having radiotherapy for eye cancer

Radiotherapy uses high energy waves similar to x-rays to kill cancer cells. It only treats the part of the body where the treatment is aimed at. 

Radiotherapy is a common treatment for different types of eye cancer. Whether you have radiotherapy depends on the type and size of your eye cancer. The different types of eye cancer that are treated with radiotherapy include:

  • melanoma
  • lymphoma
  • lacrimal gland cancer
  • squamous cell skin cancer of the eye
  • basal cell skin cancer of the eye
  • squamous cell cancer of the conjunctiva

How do I have radiotherapy?

There are different ways of having radiotherapy to the eye.

  • Internal radiotherapy (brachytherapy) - a small radioactive disc is stitched to the eye. This gives a high dose of radiation to the eye cancer.
  • External beam therapy - for this treatment a machine directs radiotherapy beams at the cancer from outside the eye.

Your radiotherapy specialist (radiation oncologist) or nurse will explain how you are going to have your treatment. They will go through everything with you in detail and discuss the side effects. Ask as many questions as you need to. 

You may have radiotherapy before or after other treatments.

When you might have it

Eye melanoma

Radiotherapy is often used to treat melanoma of the eye. It is usually recommended for small or medium sized eye melanoma. But you might also have it for some large eye melanomas. 

You may have surgery before radiotherapy. This depends on the size of the cancer and where it is. Having more than one type of treatment could mean that you can keep some, or all of your sight.

Eye lymphoma

You usually have external beam radiotherapy for lymphoma of the eye. 

Your doctor may suggest radiotherapy treatment similar to that used for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Radiotherapy for eye lymphoma can include both eyes. This is because there is a high chance of the cancer being present in both eyes. 

Eye lymphomas can spread to the brain. In this situation you have radiotherapy to the eyes and brain. It can clear the cancer in the eye and also help to stop it coming back in the brain or spinal cord.

You may have chemotherapy as well as radiotherapy.

Lacrimal gland cancer

You might have external beam radiotherapy following an operation to remove your lacrimal gland cancer. This aims to treat any cancer cells left behind and reduce the risk of it coming back.

Sometimes it is possible to remove the lacrimal gland cancer, without removing the whole eye. 

Side effects

Radiotherapy can cause side effects, these depend on:

  • how much radiotherapy you have
  • the type of radiotherapy

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