Breast Cancer & the Eye

by Dr. Anthony Callan

Breast Cancer is the second-leading cancer among women and 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Unfortunately, due to its prevalence, there are few families that have yet to be touched by this disease. What some may not be aware of is that breast cancer has the ability to metastasize throughout the body and may even spread to the eye.

The human eye possesses a large blood supply called the choroid. It is here that breast cancer metastasis can occur resulting in the most common eye tumor found today- Choroidal Melanoma. Secondary cancers of the eye (tumors that originate from other parts of the body ) are more common than Primary cancers of the eye (tumors that arise in the eye itself). If an eye doctor sees a tumor in the eye, it is most likely the result of cancer that has spread from a different part of the body and, in women, it is most likely from the breast. It is sometimes the case that your eye doctor may be the first to detect these tumors because he or she is able to non-invasively look inside the pupil of a patient who has been dilated. It is also possible to discover and document suspicious lesions with digital retinal scans such as the Optos that may turn out to be Choroidal Melanomas. Because of this fact, I encourage all of my patients to come for annual eye visits to look for the presence of these tumors in a comprehensive eye exam.

Choroidal melanoma may affect the eye by causing symptoms such as blurred vision, light sensitivity and eye pain. What’s important to remember is that not all patients with a Choroidal Melanoma will manifest these symptoms. In addition, because certain breast cancer drugs such as Tamoxifen can result in ocular toxicity with similar eye symptoms, it is essential that your eye doctor have the opportunity to differentially diagnose any potential Choroidal Melanomas. If you take breast cancer drugs, do not assume that your eye symptoms are side-effects of the drugs only.

Historically, the prognosis for mortality/morbidity of these tumors has been poor. However, advances in the treatment of these tumors, specifically external-beam radiation therapy, has allowed many breast cancer patients with Choroidal Melanoma to live many years past their original diagnosis.

It is unfortunately common for some patients to delay their annual eye exam despite having blurred vision. At Callan Eye Care, we have the ability to non-invasively peer into the back of your eye with the Optos retinal scan to look for these tumors and assist you in the wellness of your eyes.

It is important to remember that as eye care professionals, we are not just caring for your eyes but also your overall systemic health!