Last year a little under 3,000 Americans were diagnosed with some form of eye cancer. This year alone 310 people have died from cancers of the eye or orbit.
Kinds of Eye Cancer
The two most common kinds of cancers affecting the eye are melanoma and lymphoma, with melanoma by far the most frequently encountered.
Most eye cancers do not start out in the eye. Usually, the cancer spreads from some other part of the body. 9 in 10 melanomas begin in the skin; lymphomas originate in the lymph nodes.
Eye cancer can occur at any age, but the chances increase with age. It is among the most common and aggressive cancer found in children under 5 years of age.
Early Detection of Eye Cancer is Critical
Early detection greatly increases the chances of a patient surviving eye cancer. Because in the majority of cases eye cancers have spread to the other from another part of the body, very often those who suffer eye cancer have low survival rates.
A New Method of Eye Cancer Detection
Currently, doctors rely on biopsies to test for cancer. A biopsy requires that a patient undergo an invasive procedure – a needle is inserted in the eye and a small portion of the growth is removed for laboratory testing.
Researched in the last few years have developed a non-invasive means of testing for cancer that uses bioluminescence.
Bioluminescence is the production and giving off of light by a living organism. The same process found in fireflies, bioluminescence occurs in marine invertebrates, as well as some type of fungi and bacteria.
The new technology, bioluminescence imaging (BLI), promises to allow doctors to diagnose eye cancer faster and more easily. Bioluminescent cells are introduced to the eye. The intensity of light they produce is then used to correlate the growth, weight, and size of tumors.
The new method offers doctors an easy and reliable means of tracking a patient’s response to cancer treatment. It is hoped that BLI will help reduce eye loss in instances of childhood eye cancer. Caused by immature retinal cells in one or both eyes, the cancer progresses quickly. In the cases of larger tumors, the eye must be removed; smaller, tumors, however, are treated with chemotherapy. It is curable if diagnosed in its early stages.
A Roadmap to a Cure
BLI offers researchers to study the tumors themselves. The bioluminescence can shed light on how cancer cells communicate and spread. Investigating the structure of eye tumors imbued with bioluminescence could help one day to find a cure.