By Mr Alex Shortt, consultant ophthalmic surgeon at Optegra Eye Health Care
Being told you have cancer is devastating and can stir up a whole host of emotions ranging from fear and anxiety to hope and determination. Every two minutes in the UK someone receives a cancer diagnosis and it is likely to affect one in two of us now in our lifetime, so it is a very real concern.
This month we mark World Cancer Day on Friday 4 February – uniting people, communities and countries to raise awareness of cancer and take action to support those who are dealing with a cancer diagnosis.
As eye health specialists here at Optegra strive to ensure all our patients, and people in the wider community, become aware of any changes in the appearance of their eyes or their vision which could be turn out to be cancerous or other sight-threatening conditions.
As with many cancers, early detection is key so use this year’s World Cancer Day to be thankful for your vision, our most valuable sense, and take time out of your day to remember the CAN in cancer:
- C is for Check – check your eyes and vision regularly. Has anything changed?
- A is for Action – if you notice any changes then take action, make an appointment to see your GP or optometrist
- N is for Never – never ignore symptoms which are new to you
Thankfully eye cancer is rare, with around 750 cases diagnosed in the UK every year. There are a number of different cancers that affect the eyes including eye melanoma (the most common), squamous cell carcinoma, lymphoma and retinoblastoma (a childhood cancer).
Eye cancer does not always cause obvious symptoms and these symptoms can be caused by more minor eye conditions, so they’re not necessarily a sign of cancer. This is why regular routine eye tests are so important as they are the best way to pick up the early signs of cancer.
It is a real concern if people are delaying their eye examinations. Optometrists have had appropriate measures in place to provide safe optometric eye care. Our vision and eye health is so precious and many of the conditions that can threaten our vision are, in the early stages, asymptomatic. So the best way to keep check is to have regular biannual eye tests.
Spot the signs
As we slowly start to emerge from the shackles of Covid and life starts to take on a semblance of normality, it can be easy to overlook small changes in our eyesight or eye.
Often these changes are put down to getting old or using computer screens more regularly. But it is vitally important to report any changes to your GP or optometrist – whilst they may be nothing serious, early detection and treatment is key.
It is also a good idea to familiarise yourself with the symptoms of eye cancer so you can look out (pardon the pun!) for any changes and take any action that is needed. Here is a useful checklist – have you experienced any of these symptoms recently?
- Double vision
- Blurred vision
- Flashes or floaters
- Pain or redness
- A change in the appearance of the eye
- Lumps on the eyelid or area around the eye
- Inflammation or eye irritation
- A dark spot on your iris
Look into my eyes
If your GP or optometrist suspects you have a serious eye problem, they will refer you to a specialist for further assessment. These specialists are checking for the size and shape of any tumours so they can plan the right treatment. Tests could include:
- An eye examination to look at the structure of your eye in detail and check for any abnormalities
- An ultrasound scan of your eye – this creates an image of the inside of your eye so a doctor can find out more about any tumours and their size
- A biopsy to remove a small sample of cells from the tumour
The main treatments for eye cancer are surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, but they will depend on:
- the type of eye cancer you have and where it is in the eye
- the size of your cancer and how far it has grown or spread (the stage)
- your general health and level of fitness
Options will be discussed with you during your consultation and surgeons will always try their very best to save as much of your sight as possible.