Eye exams key in detection of eye cancer

  • Deborah Condon

Routine eye examinations are key in the early detection of the most common form of eye cancer - ocular melanoma, a major conference has heard.

While most melanomas develop in the skin, in rare cases, they can also develop in the eye. Ocular melanoma, a tumour of pigment producing cells, is the most common type of cancer to originate in the eye.

The results of a new audit on the disease were presented at the annual conference of the Irish College of Ophthalmologists (ICO). According to the findings, the estimated incidence rate of new eye melanoma cases occurring in Ireland is nine cases per million of the population per year.

The audit was carried out by the ocular oncology team at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital in Dublin. It found that 41 patients were newly diagnosed with ocular melanoma at the hospital between January and December 2010.

Until now, there has been no accurate measure of the number of new eye melanoma cases occurring in Ireland.

The audit also revealed that cases of ocular melanoma occurred equally in men and women and the average age at the time of diagnosis was 57 years. Half of the patients had no symptoms, with the tumour being found in a routine eye examination. Meanwhile, the other half had symptoms of blurring or a change in vision.

"The fact that half of cases of ocular melanoma are diagnosed in people who have no symptoms demonstrates the value of regular eye examinations, particularly as one gets older. Most patients with eye cancer do not lose their eye and most retain vision," explained Brid Morris of the ocular oncology team.

The conference was also told that as a result of a collaboration between Saint Luke's Hospital and the Eye and Ear Hospital, and with funding from the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP), a new treatment service has been available to patients with ocular melanoma since September 2010.

According to Ms Morris, under this treatment scheme, which was evaluated as part of the audit, ‘70% of patients underwent radiotherapy treatment, which allowed preservation of the affected eye and preservation of useful vision'.

The ICO conference runs until May 14 in Cavan.

For more information on eye health, see our Eye Health Channel here



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