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Eyelid Tumors

Can cancer affect the eye?

Yes. Any living tissue can become malignant. Cancer in the eye’s interior tissue is rare. Eyelid tumors are the source of most eye related cancer.

What is an eyelid tumor?

A tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue. This growth can be cancerous (malignant) or non-cancerous (benign).

What would be a benign tumor?

A sty or fluid filled cysts are two of the most common benign tumors.

What would be a malignant tumor?

Basal cell carcinomas represent between 90 and 95% of skin cancers affecting eyelids. These tumors appear as a raised, firm, pearly bump with tiny blood vessels. Its surface area may crust and some skin may be missing. Most basal cell tumors occur on the lower eyelid. Although basal cells are malignant, they are localized skin cancer cells, rarely spreading to other areas of the body.

Ophthalmologists have a high success rate in the treatment of basal cell eyelid cancer.

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Are there other types of malignant eyelid tumors?

Squamous cell carcinoma is less prevalent than basal cell tumors, occurring in 5% of eyelid cancer patients. The raised squamous cells are usually larger than basal cells, less spherical and less dense. Squamous cells are associated with eyelash loss. If untreated, squamous cells can travel to nearby lymph glands. Once in the lymphatic system, these cancer cells can travel throughout the body. This metastasis can be serious. That is why it is essential for an ophthalmologist to examine any unusual skin conditions near the eye. The sooner the detection, the earlier successful treatment can begin.

What about melanoma?

Melanoma is unlike basal and squamous cell carcinomas in that the cancer is not localized in a small, scaly patch of skin, a bump, raised lesion or a tumor. Melanoma appears as areas of skin discoloration because the body’s cells that determine skin pigmentation – the melanin - are malignant. Melanoma is responsible for nearly all skin cancer deaths.

Any area of the eyelid that is unusually colored, especially if its size or shape changes, should be examined immediately to rule our cancer.

How are these skin cancers treated?

Surgery is the most effective treatment for skin cancer. Biopsy results will identify the tumor as malignant or benign and, if it is malignant, what specific cancer cells are present. If the tumor is malignant, a complete excision is performed by an ophthalmologist. Depending upon the complexity of the procedure, the surgery may be performed in the ophthalmologist’s office or in a surgery center.

How complicated might the surgery be?

What may appear as a simple excision of a small bump usually requires surgical shaping of the affected eyelid so it can reassume its natural shape after the cancer is removed.

Complex surgery occurs if the cancer cells have spread from the eyelid into the eye socket. Although rare, this may require removal of the eye and adjacent tissue.

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Are some people more likely than others to present eyelid skin cancer?

Yes. Skin cancer is most prevalent in fair-skinned, older adults, especially those with a history of prolonged sun exposure.

How can someone prevent the development of eyelid tumors?

Sunlight exposure is a major, controllable, risk factor. Protection can be found in hats, visors, sunglasses and sunscreens.

What can I expect from an office visit for an abnormal growth on an eyelid?

Most eyelid growths are benign. If there is a possibility the eyelid tumor could be malignant, a biopsy will be performed. Upon receiving the results, I will discuss the patient’s condition and thoroughly explain all treatment options including adding the expertise of an oncologist to our treatment team if melanoma is reported.

Most importantly, I will take whatever time the patient needs for me to answer their questions and feel completely comfortable with our treatment plan.

This is the essence of Personalized Eye Care.

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