Lymphoma is a type of cancer that affects the blood cells, specifically the lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are white blood cells and are responsible for fighting off bacteria and viruses. Lymphocytes are found throughout your body, so lymphoma can develop anywhere, including inside your eyes. Here are five things you need to know about lymphoma of the eyes, also known as ocular lymphoma.
What are the signs of ocular lymphoma?
Ocular lymphoma can cause a wide variety of symptoms. It can cause changes in your vision like blurred vision, the appearance of floaters, or even loss of vision. Your eyes may also become red or swollen. Lymphoma usually affects both eyes, but you may only notice symptoms in one eye.
How is it diagnosed?
These symptoms are fairly vague and can be caused by a wide variety of eye conditions, so your optometrist will need to perform tests to diagnose ocular lymphoma. First, the optometrist will look inside your eye with an ophthalmoscope. The vitreous (fluid inside your eye) is supposed to be clear, but if you have ocular lymphoma, it will look cloudy.
To confirm the diagnosis, a biopsy of the vitreous will be taken. To do this, a small needle will be inserted into your eye and a portion of your vitreous will be removed. The vitreous will be examined under a microscope to look for cancer cells.
Once the diagnosis is confirmed, your doctor will need to stage your cancer. Staging the cancer means figuring out how far it has spread. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of your head will be performed to let your doctor look for signs of lymphoma. This type of cancer can spread from the eyes to the brain or spinal cord fairly easily due to proximity.
How is it treated?
If your optometrist diagnoses you with ocular lymphoma, you'll be referred to a doctor that specializes in treating eye cancers, an ocular oncologist. This doctor can treat you with chemotherapy and radiation.
If your lymphoma is confined to your eyes, it can be treated with a low dose of radiation. The doctor will shield your eyes as much as possible to protect your healthy cells from the damaging effects of radiation, but damage may still occur.
If the lymphoma has spread from your eyes to other parts of your body, you'll need systemic chemotherapy. This treatment will kill cancer cells throughout your body. Your doctor may use radiation therapy in addition to chemotherapy.
New treatments are also being considered for lymphoma treatment. For example, antiangiogenic drugs, medications that can make cancer cells grow more slowly, may be used to treat lymphoma in the future.
How will treatment affect your vision?
Radiation treatments to the eyes can cause many ocular complications, because while radiation kills cancer cells, it also kills healthy cells. The treatment may cause necrotic lesions around your eyes, usually on the eyelid, white of the eye, or the cornea. These lesions can be treated and should clear up several weeks after your treatment is finished, but they may leave scar tissue on your cornea which can lead to decreased vision.
Radiation therapy can also cause cataracts, a clouding of the lens of the eye. If you have cataracts, light won't be able to pass into your eye, and you'll have decreased vision or no vision.
What is the survival rate?
Ocular lymphoma is a rare type of cancer, so there isn't much data regarding survival rates. One study reported a five-year survival rate of about 50%, though this is only one study. More research needs to be done to determine the survival rates for this type of cancer.
Ocular lymphoma is very serious, but it can be treated it it's caught early. Contact an optometrist to learn more about this topic.