Expert Care for Ocular Melanoma

Ocular melanoma is a rare and aggressive type of cancer. That’s why it’s so important to rely on the expertise of Georgia’s largest and most comprehensive community cancer program - Northside Hospital Cancer Institute.

Your Team of Ocular Melanoma Specialists

Northside Hospital Cancer Institute believes in fighting ocular cancer by supporting you with an entire team of caring and experienced specialists. Through diagnosis, treatment and survivorship, we combine our expertise with your goals to form the right care team for you. 

We offer a full ocular melanoma treatment team that includes experts in surgical oncology, medical and radiation oncology and plastic/reconstructive surgery. Your care team also includes pathologists, radiologists and certified genetic counselors. If you experience partial loss of vision, our occupational therapists can teach you new visual strategies.

Plus, you’ll benefit from the personal care of:

  • Nurse navigators who will help you throughout the treatment process
  • Research nurses (when applicable) to help you better understand your cancer
  • Social workers who you can lean on for social, emotional and spiritual support
  • Dieticians for health and nutrition advice

More About Ocular Melanoma

Ocular melanoma is a cancer of the eye. Other names for it include OM, eye melanoma and ocular cancer. You may have heard people use the term “melanoma” to talk about skin cancer, but ocular melanoma is very different.

In adults, ocular melanoma is the most common type of primary eye cancer. Still, it’s very rare. Only about 2,000-2,500 adults are diagnosed with ocular melanoma in the United States each year. 

Ocular melanoma forms in cells called melanocytes, which create a pigment called melanin that gives color to your skin, hair and eyes. Tumors usually start in parts of the eye that you can’t see when you look in the mirror.

Ocular Melanoma Symptoms 

Most of the time, ocular melanoma has few early signs or symptoms. Tumors may grow for years before symptoms appear. However, ocular melanoma may cause:

  • Blurred vision
  • Double vision
  • Loss of some of your side vision
  • So-called “floaters,” which make it seem like you’re seeing dust specks
  • Perceived “flashes” of light
  • A dark spot on the iris (the colored part of your eye) that grows larger over time
  • Changes to the shape of your pupil (the dark circle in the middle of your eye)

Ocular Melanoma Risk Factors 

Scientists and doctors don’t know what causes ocular melanoma. However, it may be more common among the following individuals:

  • Those with light-colored skin
  • Those with light-colored (e.g., blue or green) eyes
  • Those with atypical mole syndrome (also called dysplastic nevus syndrome)
  • Those who have had prolonged exposure to tanning beds or the sun 
  • Those who are over the age of 55

Ocular Melanoma Diagnosis 

It can be hard to spot this kind of eye cancer. It has few early symptoms, and it can start in parts of the eye you can’t see when looking at yourself. That's why regular visits with an experienced Northside eye doctor are important.

Often, ocular melanoma is found during routine eye exams when the doctor dilates your eyes and looks into them with an ophthalmoscope. If the doctor suspects ocular melanoma, he or she may advise taking pictures of the inside of your eye using methods such as: 

  • Ultrasound – an image of the eye’s interior using sound waves 
  • Fundus photography – a color image of the back of the eye, or fundus 
  • Fluorescein angiography – a picture of the eye’s blood vessels using fluorescent dye
  • Optical coherence tomography - 3D imaging that shows cross-sections of the retina

In some cases, your doctor may recommend a biopsy. That’s when a small amount of eye tissue is removed and tested in a lab for cancer cells. 

Because ocular melanoma often spreads to other areas of the body, your doctor also may recommend additional tests such as:

  • Blood test to see whether your liver is affected
  • Chest X-ray
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Computerized tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan

Ocular Melanoma Treatment Options 

Eye cancer treatment depends on many factors. These include the size and location of the tumor, your age and whether cancer has spread to other areas of the body. 

If the tumor is very small and not causing problems, your doctors may recommend watching it closely to see if it grows. The most common treatments, however, are either radiation therapy or eye surgery

 

  • Brachytherapy (also called plaque radiation therapy) and proton beam radiation are two kinds of radiation treatment often used to treat ocular melanoma tumors — especially if they are small- or medium-sized. 
  • Doctors may use surgery to remove the tumor or the entire eye. If the eye is removed, plastic surgeons and other specialists can implant an artificial eye. Although artificial eyes can’t restore vision, they can help you achieve a near-normal appearance.   

 

In addition to these treatment options, Northside Hospital Cancer Institute has a Research Program on the leading edge of cancer research. In fact, we have one of the largest community-based oncology/hematology programs in the nation. That means you have access to a variety of clinical trials that offer both best-in-class care and a chance to improve scientists’ understanding of cancer and cancer treatments. 

Together, our experts will work with you to create the right cancer treatment to fit your goals and needs.

Ocular Melanoma Support & Survivorship

It’s never easy to hear that you or a loved one has any form of cancer, including eye cancer, but you don’t have to face it alone. From day 1, cancer nurse navigators at Northside Hospital Cancer Institute are here to help you. 

Our cancer nurse navigators will talk with you about your cancer and your treatment choices, answer your questions and help coordinate your care. Their experienced guidance is available throughout your treatment and survivorship. In fact, they’ll help connect you with our extensive network of support and survivorship resources .

Learn more about our Cancer Support & Survivorship services