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An Annual Eye Exam Reveals Cancer

Imagine walking in to your eye doctor’s office for a routine exam and walking out with a diagnosis of cancer. Fortunately this scenario isn’t very common, but it does happen, and an increasing number of eye doctors are using your annual visit to check on more than just your vision.

53-year-old Hal wasn’t looking for anything more than a new prescription to sharpen his vision when he went to see Art Corish, OD. Instead, he got a life-saving referral. “During a comprehensive eye exam, we routinely look inside a patient’s eyes for signs of any changes,” Dr. Corish says. “In Hal’s case, when I dilated his eyes and examined them, I saw an unusual growth in the back of the eye, something that hadn’t been there in earlier exams.”

After meeting with Hal, a retinal specialist told him to visit another eye clinic where doctors subsequently diagnosed him with a rare form of cancer called ocular melanoma. Melanomas are a kind of cancer that usually occurs on the skin, but ocular melanoma develops within the cells that make pigment in the eye

Unfortunately symptoms aren’t always present for ocular melanoma or other serious eye conditions. Getting regular comprehensive eye exams is the best way to watch out for vision problems and life-threatening conditions like Hal’s. Because doctors caught his cancer early, Hal received radiation treatment and his tumor shrank until it disappeared completely.

According to Dr. Corish, “There are dozens of conditions patients won’t notice themselves until the diseases are quite advanced. Glaucoma, hypertension, diabetes, and tumors are just a few of the many diseases we look for when examining patients at their regular check-ups.” If Hal hadn’t made his yearly visit to his eye doctor, he might have lost his eye—or his life.

Prevention is the best way to keep your eyes and body healthy. Exposure to UV rays may increase the likelihood of developing eye cancers later in life, so always wear sunglasses with 100% UV protection whenever you’re outdoors. And remember to get a yearly comprehensive vision exam from your VSP network eye doctor. If you experience any of the following symptoms between visits, let your eye doctor know right away:

  • Blurry vision
  • Dark spots in your field of vision
  • Chronic redness of the eyes
  • Ongoing nausea


American Cancer Society

Melanoma Research Foundation