NEW YORK--If the face is the area of the body most vulnerable to sun damage, the eyes are in need of special protection, Rene S. Rodriguez-Sains, MD, said at a media conference sponsored by the Skin Cancer Foundation. Malignancies of the eyes and periocular area are particularly serious because of their proximity to the brain and other vital structures, he said.
Disfigurement and loss of sight are among the consequences when such cancers spread beyond the very thin skin of the eyelids and periorbital area (see figure), said Dr. Rodriguez-Sains, chief, Ocular Tumor and Orbital Clinic, Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital.
He urged physicians to be on the alert for sun damage and skin cancers in and around the eyes. "Function and cosmesis are important issues for cancers around the eyes, so early diagnosis is essential," he said.
In addition to the standard warning signs of skin cancer, signs that warrant further investigation include persistent red eye or inflammation of the eyelids that does not respond to medication, the unexplained loss of eyelashes, and any pigmented lesion (flat or raised) on the lids, he said.
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation can also cause cataracts, benign and malignant growths of the conjunctiva, and other ocular disorders. "About 10% of cataract cases are directly attributable to UV exposure," Dr. Rodriguez-Sains said.
UV from the sun, as well as from artificial tanning devices , contributes to macular degeneration and the development of pterygia. Although benign, these growths tug on the cornea, causing refractive changes. Scarring typically follows surgical removal, and recurrences are common.
Those at highest risk for UV damage to the eyes and eye area are patients whose cataracts have been removed but who have not had intraocular lens implantation or whose implants are not UV blocking; PUVA therapy patients; individuals with atypical mole syndrome; and outdoor workers.