Treatment of ocular cancers is highly specialized. At MD Anderson, we personalize your care to include the most-advanced therapies with the least impact on your body. Our goals are to provide successful treatment while preserving your eye and vision when possible and restore your appearance after treatment.
If you are diagnosed with an eye cancer, your doctor will discuss the best options to treat it. This depends on several factors, including:
- The type of cancer
- Location and size of cancer
- If cancer has spread (metastasized)
- Your age and health
At MD Anderson, your eye cancer treatment is customized to your particular needs. One or more of the following therapies may be recommended to treat the cancer or help relieve symptoms.
One of the following surgeries may be used to treat uveal melanoma.
- Eye-preserving surgery: Eye-preserving surgery can be performed in select cases. Our highly specialized eye surgeons use the latest surgical techniques to remove the cancer while making every effort to preserve the function and aesthetic appearance of your eye, eyelid and facial area.
- Iridectomy: The iris (colored part of the eye) is removed.
- Enucleation: Enucleation is the removal of the entire eyeball. It is performed on some patients with advanced uveal melanoma.
- Orbital exenteration: This surgery entails the removal of the eye, eyelids, surrounding skin, orbital muscles, fat and nerves. Though it is rarely performed, it is an option for uveal melanoma patients with very advanced disease.
- Eye reconstructive surgery: Following enucleation or exenteration, a specialized team will fit the patient with a prosthetic eye. Each prosthetic is made specifically for the patient, and patients often describe the appearance as excellent.
Laser therapy uses an intense, focused beam of light to destroy eye cancer tissue. This is used sometimes for treatment of tumors inside the eyeball, including uveal melanoma and metastatic tumors.
Radiation therapy uses powerful, focused beams of energy to kill cancer cells. There are several different radiation therapy techniques. Doctors can use these to accurately target a tumor while minimizing damage to healthy tissue.
Patients may be offered the following types of radiation therapy:
- Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT): A type of radiation therapy that focuses multiple radiation beams of different intensities directly on the tumor for the highest possible dose.
- Volumetric modulated arc therapy: A form of IMRT that utilizes a rotating treatment machine to deliver radiation at multiple angles.
- Proton Therapy: Proton therapy is similar to traditional radiation therapy, but it uses a different type of energy that may allow doctors to target tumors with much more accuracy. This limits damage to nearby healthy tissue and allows for the delivery of a more powerful dose of radiation. MD Anderson does not offer proton therapy for uveal melanoma at this time. Read more about proton therapy.
- Brachytherapy: Brachytherapy delivers radiation therapy with small pieces of radioactive material that are placed on or inside the patient’s body as close to the tumor as possible. This allows doctors to deliver very high doses of radiation directly to the patient’s tumor while limiting radiation exposure to healthy tissue. Learn more about brachytherapy.
- Stereotactic radiosurgery: Stereotactic radiosurgery is a non-invasive treatment that uses dozens of tiny radiation beams to accurately target tumors with a single high dose of radiation. Despite its name, SRS is not a surgical procedure. It does not require an incision or anesthesia. For uveal melanoma patients, it is used in very limited cases. Read more about stereotactic radiosurgery.
Cryoablation, also known as cryotherapy or cryosurgery, uses cold to kill tumor cells. During the procedure, a special probe is inserted into the tumor and then cooled to temperatures well below freezing. A ball of ice forms at the tip of the probe, freezing and destroying cancerous tissue. Cryotherapy is not as invasive as surgery, and can sometimes be performed as an outpatient procedure.
Chemotherapy drugs kill cancer cells, control their growth or relieve disease-related symptoms. Chemotherapy may involve a single drug or a combination of two or more drugs, depending on the type of cancer and how fast it is growing.
There are several ways to deliver chemotherapy for eye cancer, including:
- Intravenous: The drug is injected into a blood vessel and is pumped throughout the body.
- Intra-arterial: A catheter is inserted into a blood vessel near the groin and then steered through the body up to the eye, where chemo is directly delivered. This avoids exposing the patient to systemic chemotherapy. Under certain circumstances, this is the preferred technique for delivering chemotherapy medications. This treatment is available through our partnership in the Retinoblastoma Center of Houston.
- Intravitreal: Chemotherapy is injected directly into the eye.
- Periocular: The drug is placed around the eye.
Targeted therapy drugs are designed to stop or slow the growth or spread of cancer. This happens on a cellular level. Cancer cells need specific molecules (often in the form of proteins) to survive, multiply and spread. These molecules are usually made by the genes that cause cancer, as well as the cells themselves. Targeted therapies are designed to interfere with, or target, these molecules or the cancer-causing genes that create them.
Targeted therapy can be used to treat eye cancer that has spread, or metastasized, to other parts of the body.
The immune system finds and defends the body from infection and disease. Cancer is a complex disease that can evade and outsmart the immune system. Immunotherapy improves the immune system’s ability to eliminate cancer.
Immunotherapy can be used to treat eye cancer that has spread, or metastasized, to other parts of the body.
The following types of immunotherapy may be used to treat eye cancer:
- Immune checkpoint inhibitors: Immune checkpoint inhibitors are a type of immunotherapy. They stop the immune system from turning off before cancer is completely eliminated. Learn more about immune checkpoint inhibitors.
- Monoclonal antibodies: Monoclonal antibodies are a type of immunotherapy. These antibodies attach to specific proteins on the surface of cancer cells or immune cells. They either mark the cancer as a target for the immune system or boost the ability of immune cells to fight the cancer.
As a top ranked cancer center, MD Anderson conducts clinical trials for many types of eye cancer. Some of these trials cannot be found anywhere else.
Treatment at MD Anderson
Cancers of the eye are treated in our Eye Clinic in the Head and Neck Center.
MD Anderson patients have access to clinical trials offering promising new treatments that cannot be found anywhere else.
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