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Can Ocular Melanoma Be Treated?

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Most ocular melanomas develop in the uvea, a part of the eye that contains the iris, ciliary body and choroid. For this reason this form of cancer is called uveal melanoma. Although this is the most frequently diagnosed type of eye cancer, it is still very uncommon, with an annual incidence of 5.1 cases per million individuals.

Most uveal tumors arise from the pigment cells (melanocytes) that reside within the uvea and give color to the eye. When an eye melanoma has spread to distant parts of the body, the five-year survival rate is about 15%.


Treatments for ocular melanoma are highly dependent on the location, size and stage of the cancer, as well as how quickly it is progressing. In some cases, your doctor may decide to keep a careful eye on the cancer rather than undertake any intrusive measures.

The goal of treatment is to keep your eyesight as clear as possible; it may include surgery, radiation or laser therapy.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. It is a frequently used treatment for melanoma of the eye. Radiation therapy can often save a person's vision.

There are two basic methods of radiation therapy:

  • External radiation therapy involves directing radiation beams from outside the body at the tumor. Proton beam radiation, for example, is used to target the tumor. This reduces the amount of damage to nearby eye and brain tissues.
  • Internal radiation therapy involves implanting radiation seeds near the tumor inside the eye. This procedure is known as radioactive plaque therapy or brachytherapy. To safeguard other components of the eye, the seeds are enclosed in a metal plaque (disc).


Surgery is used to remove the tumor and some surrounding healthy tissue. Depending on the size and spread of the tumor, the eye doctor will remove sections or all of the damaged eye during surgery.

Depending on the size, stage and location of the tumor, the surgeon will choose one of the following options:

  • Iridectomy - the removal of part of the iris
  • Iridocyclectomy - the removal of part of the iris and the ciliary body
  • Irido-trabeculectomy - the removal of part of the iris, plus a small piece of the outer part of the eyeball
  • Enucleation - the removal of the eyeball

In some cases, the removal of the eye may be necessary when other treatment methods are not suitable. A few weeks after the eye is removed, you can be fitted for an artificial eye that will match the size and color of the remaining eye.

Laser Therapy

Laser therapy is used in rare circumstances to treat very small ocular melanomas or to lessen the likelihood of cancer returning following radiation. This therapy uses heat in the form of a laser to shrink a smaller tumor.

The location and size of the tumor, as well as the likelihood of saving vision in the eye, are the most important criteria in deciding on treatment for eye melanoma. Contact Silicon Valley Eye Physicians in Sunnyvale to discuss the best course of action for a successful outcome.

At Silicon Valley Eye Physicians, we put your family's needs first. Talk to us about how we can help you maintain healthy vision. Call us today: 408-739-6200 or book an appointment online to see one of our Sunnyvale eye doctors.

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What impact will ocular melanoma have on my life?

Most patients diagnosed with ocular melanoma are treated and able to return to their normal activities.

Can ocular melanoma come back after surgery?

Ocular melanoma recurs in about half of all patients, at some point after treatment.