Melanoma of the eye is a relatively uncommon disease but it does occur, particularly among people at higher risk, including those with dysplastic nevus syndrome, a condition marked by atypical moles, and those who have spent a lot of time in the sun without sunglasses with adequate UV protection. As with melanomas of the skin, it is generally believed that ocular melanomas form when moles become cancerous. If you notice the formation of or changes in a dark spot within your iris (the colored part of the eye), you should have your ophthalmologist or optometrist look at it immediately. You should also be alert to symptoms, which may include some or all of the following: floaters, which are spots or squiggly lines that drift across one’s field of vision; flashes, in which lights suddenly flash or spark; blurred, dimmed or narrowed vision; changes in the shape, position or movement of the eyeball; bulging; changes in the pupil; chronic redness; nausea; and, in rare cases, eye pain.
“In their early stages, most ocular melanomas produce no symptoms at all,” says Comprehensive Ophthalmologist Shelby Terpstra, DO. “They can go unnoticed until they advance and become dangerous to vision and general health. The good news is that eye cancer screening is part of Lake Eye’s regular comprehensive eye exam, and, caught early, it is highly treatable.” Your doctor will likely dilate your pupils and then use various diagnostic devices, such as an indirect ophthalmoscope and a mirrored lens called a gonioscope, in conjunction with a slit lamp or operating microscope to examine your eyes for abnormalities in vision and movement, enlarged blood vessels, tumors and other possible problems.
Says Dr. Terpstra, “Regular eye exams can catch cancer and other diseases of the eye and body, including glaucoma, cataracts, diabetes, even hypertension, before they cause serious damage, all in one visit.” She also has recommendations for patients that include wearing quality, UV-blocking eyewear and protective clothing whenever outdoors and nutritional supplements to support eye health.
Even if you have had a recent eye exam, sudden changes in vision and/or new or worsening symptoms warrant an appointment with your Lake Eye ophthalmologist or optometrist as quickly as possible. Most eye and vision problems are treatable – catching them early can protect your vision and promote optimal overall health.