Treatments for eye cancer

Treatments

The aim of treatment is to destroy the cancer cells, stop the cancer coming back, and to save as much of your sight as possible. The treatment you will receive will depend on:

  • The type of eye cancer you have
  • The size of the tumour
  • Which part of the eye is affected
  • How far it has spread
  • Your age
  • Your general state of health
  • If the cancer has come back after treatment

The treatments for eye cancer include surgery, laser treatment, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Some of the treatments are very specialised and you may need to travel to a special hospital or centre to receive treatment.In some cases, you may be transferred to a hospital in the UK.

Surgery

The type of surgery you have will depend on the location and size of the tumour. You may only need to have part of your eye removed, for example, the iris and ciliary body, or all of it. Removing all of your eye is called an enucleation. Your surgeon will discuss with you which type of surgery you need.

Laser treatment

If you have a small melanoma of the eye, you may be suitable for laser treatment. Laser therapy uses a high-energy light beam to burn tissues. A special form of laser treatment is transpupillary thermotherapy. This uses infrared light to heat the tumour and kill it. For laser therapy, you will need a local anaesthetic. The therapy may need to be repeated several times before the cancer is cured. You may be transferred to a hospital in the UK for specialised treatment.

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It may be the only treatment for eye cancer or it may be given after surgery. It can be given from inside your body or from outside .
With internal radiotherapy, radioactive seeds are attached to a disk called a plaque and put directly on the wall of your eye containing the cancer. External radiotherapy uses a special machine to aim tiny, invisible particles called protons at the cancer cells to kill them, with little damage to nearby normal tissues.

Please see our booklet Understanding Radiotherapy, which you can download from our "Important cancer information booklets" list on the right hand side of this page, for more about radiotherapy, or learn more about radiotherapy here

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses drugs to cure or control your cancer. It can be useful for treating intraocular lymphoma but it is used less often for intraocular melanoma.

Chemotherapy can be used alone or with radiotherapy to treat eye cancer. You are most likely to have chemotherapy if your cancer has already spread to other parts of your body. This treatment can often relieve symptoms and may shrink a cancer or slow its growth.

The drugs used can be given as drops into your eye or injected into a vein or as tablets. Some of the drugs used to treat eye cancer include gemcitabine and treosulfan. Please contact the National Cancer Helpline at 1800 200 700 for a copy of our booklet Understanding Chemotherapy, download it from our "Important cancer information booklets" list on the right hand side of this page, or learn more about chemotherapy here.

How is secondary eye cancer treated?

Sometimes a cancer can spread to the eye from another part of your body. A cancer that has spread to the eye is called a secondary eye cancer. In women this is most likely to happen with breast cancer and in men lung cancer. The treatment you will receive will depend on where the cancer has spread from and your general state of health. Surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy can be used.

Side effects

The side-effects of treatment depend on the type of treatment you have.

Learn more about side effects

Surgery

If you have part of your eye removed, you may get some loss of vision. If you have your whole eye removed , you will not be able to see with that eye. Usually the surgeon will put an eye implant into the empty socket during surgery. Some weeks later you will have a false eye fitted over your implant. If you have lost the sight in one eye, you must let your car insurance company know, as you will have to pass an eye test to make sure it is safe for you to drive. Surgery to the eye may change the way you look as well. It may take time to accept your new appearance.

Laser treatment

Laser therapy can sometimes damage parts of your eye and cause a loss of vision.

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy may cause cataracts, skin changes, loss of eyelashes and some loss of eyesight.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, sore mouth or hair loss. Many treatments cause fatigue. Your doctor will discuss any likely side-effects before treatment. For more information on side-effects, please see our booklets Understanding Chemotherapy, Understanding Radiotherapy, Understanding Cancer and Complementary Therapies, Coping with Fatigue and Diet and Cancer, which you can download from the "Important cancer information booklets" list on the right hand side of this page.

Learn more about treatments

Clinical trial

If a treatment looks like it might be helpful, it is given to patients in research studies called clinical trials. Trials may be taking place at the hospital you are attending. If you are interested in taking part, talk to your doctor. He or she can tell you if the trial would suit you or not.

Learn more about clinical trials

Call our National Cancer Helpline

Freephone 1800 200 700 to talk to a specialist cancer nurse
It's open Monday-Thursday from 9am to 7pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm