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Programs & Services

Adult Ocular Oncology

Contact us for expert screening, diagnosis and multidisciplinary care for eye cancer and related conditions in adults. If you have eye cancer, you have highly skilled adult ocular oncology specialists at Phoenix Children’s who are on your side through every phase of care.

Understanding Eyes and Eye Cancer

Primary ocular (eye) cancers begin in the eye and affect intraocular (inside) or extraocular (outside) parts of the eye. If primary eye cancer spreads to other parts of the body, such as a breast or lung, the metastasized cancer is called secondary cancer.

To understand eye cancer, it helps to understand the complex structure and function of your eyes. When you view an image, light travels through the clear surface of your eye (cornea) through the pupil or hole within the colored iris. It is detected by photo-receptor cells in the retina, a light-sensitive membrane on the back of your eyeball.

Cells send electrical signals through the optic nerve leading to the brain’s occipital lobe. Your brain uses these signals to create a picture that helps you to interpret what you see.

Detecting Abnormalities

Your care begins with a thorough eye exam. Doctors use sophisticated technologies and tools to check for tumors or other abnormalities.

Retina scans can reveal problems not visible through an ophthalmoscope exam. Doctors may use ultrasound if a tumor or other abnormalities block their view of the retina. Imaging tests help doctors to:

  • Detect potential cancer
  • Confirm a diagnosis
  • Determine its stage (how advanced it is)
  • Evaluate how therapies are working
  • Check for signs of recurring cancer after treatment

Systemic Testing

There is some risk of ocular melanoma affecting other areas of your body. Our eye specialists coordinate with oncologists to obtain imaging studies such as CT and PET scans – done in the hospital – as well as MRI if needed to evaluate other organ systems.

Continued follow up with a medical oncologist is important. Oncologists usually schedule systemic testing twice yearly for blood work and once a year for a liver ultrasound.

Genetic Testing and Counseling

Ocular melanoma is separated into types based on its genetic makeup. Practitioners may take a biopsy tissue sample of a tumor for genetic testing to identify its class:

  • Class 1 – Tumors with a low risk of spreading (metastasis)
  • Class 2 – Tumors with a higher risk of metastasis 

If a specific cancer is inherited, children and family are at risk of developing the disease. The Genetic Counseling team at Phoenix Children’s can discuss recommended cancer screenings for your family.

Other Eye Cancer Tests

  • Autofluorescence (illumination to detect cancerous tissues)
  • Fluorescein angiography (use of dye to examine blood vessels or tumor)
  • Liver function tests
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
  • Ocular ultrasound  
  • Optical coherence tomography (OCT) – noninvasive imaging using light waves
  • Tumor biopsy 
  • X-rays

Treatments for Eye Cancer

Before developing a care plan, doctors consider these and other variables:

  • Type of eye cancer
  • Size of tumor
  • Where it is located
  • How far it has spread (stage)
  • Your general health condition and medical history

We tailor treatment, typically using a combination of therapies to manage the cancer. Doctors may combine local, systemic and/or targeted radiation therapy.

If eye cancer has spread, our doctors collaborate across specialties to develop your best care plan. Throughout treatment, we make every effort to protect your vision and eyes, with lifesaving care as our top priority.

Treatment plans may include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Genetic testing   
  • Eye injections
  • Laser therapy
  • Radiotherapy
  • Surgery

Plaque Radiotherapy

Doctors can direct radiation to tissue next to a tumor. Eye surgeons attach a thin metal plaque to the eye and remove it after a few days.

Eye Injections

Studies show that injecting eye medication may decrease vision loss from radiation therapy. Doctors can inject medicine while removing a radiation plaque, repeating the injection every four months for two years.


Many of our patients worry about losing an eye (enucleation). This surgery is uncommon and reserved for very large tumors that don’t respond to radiation, and for extreme pain, vision loss or other complications. Patients who need this procedure may also have plastic surgery and/or a custom-fitted artificial eye.

Coordinated Cancer Care

If cancer from other places in your body spreads to the eye, we treat it with therapies such as laser, radiation or chemotherapy, working closely with the oncologist who is treating the primary cancer.

The adult ocular oncology team at Phoenix Children’s partners with other hospitals, programs and specialties for comprehensive care.

You can find helpful information at the Emily Center, located at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, and through our online health library.

Your Visit

If you travel to Phoenix Children’s Hospital for care, ask us about arrangements, including accommodations for you and your family. Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central and Northern Arizona offers nearby locations if you live more than 30 miles away.

Learn more about your visit.

Research Advances

Doctors at the Phoenix Children's Research Institute collaborate with academic centers such as Arizona State University and the University of Arizona to improve care options. Our clinical and research labs work with national and international researchers to stay at the forefront of cancer care, including clinical trials to test promising new therapies.

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