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What Are Ocular and Orbital Tumors?

Ocular tumors are tumors associated with the eye. They are collections of cells that grow and multiply abnormally and form masses. They can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). They can be metastatic, meaning they spread from another part of the body.

An orbital tumor refers to any tumor located in the orbit, which is the bony socket in the front of the skull that contains the eye. These tumors may also be either benign or malignant, and may arise primarily from the orbit or may metastasize from elsewhere in the body.

Types of Ocular and Orbital Tumors

For ocular tumors in adults, the most common type is metastatic, usually spreading from the lung, breast, or prostate.  Another common type of ocular tumor is malignant melanoma.  They can start as a small mole or birthmark in the eye called a choroidal nevus.  These are usually found during routine eye exams and should be closely monitored for growth by your retina specialist.

An orbital tumor can be any one of several different tumor types, including:

  • Meningiomas – Tumors that arise in the meninges, the protective covering that surrounds the brain and optic nerves.
  • Schwannomas/neurofibromas – Arise from the Schwann cells in the sheaths that cover nerves.
  • Optic gliomas – Arise from glial cells, the supporting cells in the brain.
  • Osteomas – Develop in the bone.
  • Hemangiomas and lymphangiomas – Tumors that develop in the vascular system.
  • Sarcomas – Arise from fatty tissue or muscle.

Symptoms & Diagnosis

The main symptoms of ocular tumors may include:

  • Flashes of light
  • Distortion or loss of vision
  • Floating objects (floaters) in the vision
  • The main symptoms for orbital tumors may include"
  • Pain or pressure in the eye socket
  • Double vision (diplopia) or vision loss
  • Bulging or protrusion of the eyeball (proptosis)

As with most tumors located in and around the skull, imaging studies are essential to the diagnosis of tumors of the orbital area.  Both magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans can be used.  A biopsy may also be conducted so the tumor tissue can be examined under a microscope to provide a definitive diagnosis.

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