Eye Cancer Treatment

Receiving an eye cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. The compassionate team at Allegheny Health Network Cancer Institute understands and is with you every step of the way. We offer robust support services to keep you living the best quality of life during treatment.

Because the eyes and the skin around them are so delicate, you need a skilled professional to diagnose and treat eye cancer. At AHN, our physicians have dedicated their careers to understanding and fighting this disease. Expert ophthalmologists treat eye cancer with surgery (including iridectomy), brachytherapy, and medical oncology with excellent outcomes. We use the least invasive method possible to provide you with the greatest possible results.

Expert eye cancer treatment at AHN

At the Cancer Institute, we use the latest science and tactics to provide a comprehensive strategy for treatment. We work to destroy the cancer while saving as much of the eye and vision as possible. Our treatment plans are:

  • Specialized: All of our surgeons who treat eye cancer specialize in ophthalmology (the study of eyes and vision). Many of them have additional training in specialties such as ocular oncology (the study of eye tumors and eye cancer) and oculoplastics (plastic surgery that deals with the eyes, eye lids, and tear ducts). We are the only hospital in Pittsburgh that has physicians with this extensive training and knowledge.
  • Collaborative: A team that includes ophthalmologists, surgeons, plastic surgeons, neurologists, oncologists, and radiologists works together to determine the best course of treatment. You benefit from their combined experience.

Treatment options for eye cancer

Our compassionate, skilled team works with you to find the treatment plan that best meets your needs. We may use a single treatment technique, or we may combine therapy options to give you the best results.

Eye cancer surgery

At the Cancer Institute, we use the most advanced surgical tools and treatments. We carefully review your diagnosis and develop a personalized treatment plan for you.

The location and size of the tumor will determine the type of surgery we recommend. We use the most minimally invasive option possible that will give you the best results, striving to save as much of the eye and vision as possible.

Our advanced surgical treatment options include:

  • Eye preserving surgery: This procedure is often possible for small cancers. We remove the cancer while maintaining the function and aesthetic appearance of your eye, eyelid, and facial area.
  • Iridectomy: During this outpatient procedure, a surgeon uses a laser to remove a small, cancerous piece of the iris (the colored part of the eye). We give you an anesthetic eye drop so you should not experience any pain. Your vision may be slightly blurred for a few hours. You will need someone to take you home after the procedure.
  • Enucleation: We perform this procedure on eyes that have very large tumors or have tumors that are causing extreme pain. After giving you general anesthesia, we remove the eye but leave the eye muscles intact. Once we remove the eye, we cannot restore your vision. Most patients are still be able to see from the other eye if it was not affected by the cancer. After this procedure, you will have reconstruction and possibly an ocular (eye) prosthetic.
  • Orbital exenteration: Similar to enucleation, a surgeon removes the eye. In this procedure, the physician also removes all or some of the surrounding tissue, depending on how far the cancer has spread. The surgeon may replace the eye with an artificial one for aesthetic purposes.
  • Cryotherapy: This procedure is effective for small tumors toward the front of the eye. We give you general anesthesia. Then, a surgeon uses a small metal probe that is cooled to very low temperatures and kills the cancerous cells by freezing them.
  • Oculoplastic reconstructive surgery: A specially trained eye surgeon performs this procedure to restore appearance and function (such as movement of the eyeball or the ability to open and close eyelids) after certain types of eye cancer surgery.

Radiation therapy for eye cancer

You may need radiation therapy (high-dose radiation beams directed at the tumor) before, after, or instead of surgery. Some patients prefer radiation therapy over surgery because the treatment does not impact the appearance and function of the eye.

The Cancer Institute is the only radiation oncology network accredited in western Pennsylvania by American College of Radiology. This designation means the Cancer Institute meets specific guidelines for patient safety, quality control, and efficiency of equipment.

Our advanced radiation therapies include:

  • Image-guided radiotherapy (IGRT): Physicians can see an image of the tumor immediately before or during radiation treatment. They can change the beam as necessary for precise targeting.
  • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT): This therapy uses sophisticated computer technology to map the precise shape of a tumor. The radiation targets only the tumor and does not harm nearby healthy tissues.
  • Stereotactic radiotherapy: This type of treatment delivers a large, precise radiation dose to the tumor area in a single session.
  • Eye plaque brachytherapy: A surgeon performs this procedure in an operating room.                                                                                                               
    1. You receive a local anesthetic.
    2. We place small radioactive pellets into a plaque (a small container the size of a bottle cap) and attach the plaque to the outside of the eye wall with small stitches. 
    3. Most patients need to remain in the hospital for a week while the radioactive seeds emit radiation targeted to the tumor. 
    4. Once the surgeon removes the plaque, you can often go home that same day.

Medical oncology for eye cancer 

We use the latest forms of medical oncology for precise and targeted treatment. Throughout your treatment, we monitor your wellness so we can maximize the effectiveness of the medication while reducing side effects. You may receive these treatments intravenously (by vein), orally (by mouth), or through topical creams or eye drops. 

Our advanced medical oncology therapies include:

  • Chemotherapy: These medications slow the growth of cancer. Because these aggressive drugs can also affect healthy cells, you may experience side effects. Our team carefully monitors you during treatment to ease any side effects and to ensure the drugs are as effective as possible. 
  • Targeted therapy: These drugs specifically target the genes and protein changes in cells that cause cancer, stopping cancer’s growth. Targeted therapy often causes less severe side effects than chemotherapy.
  •  Immunotherapy: This drug treatment prompts the body’s own immune system to fight the cancer.

Rehabilitation after eye cancer treatment

Depending on the type of treatment you receive, rehabilitation may be an important next step. Our compassionate team works with you during and after treatment.

We help you adjust to any lifestyle changes, such as the use of a prosthetic eye, and achieve the best possible results. You can visit one of our 10 convenient locations or request a home visit from a rehabilitation therapist through our Healthcare @ Home service. Learn more about our rehabilitation program.

Contact us

Call the AHN Cancer Help Line anytime at (412) NURSE-4-U (412) 687-7348 to schedule a cancer-related appointment or to just talk with our nurses about diagnoses, treatments, and side effects.