The most common type of eyelid cancer is basal cell carcinoma. Basal cell carcinoma is a type of malignant skin cancer that affects part of our skin with excessive sunlight exposure. This type of cancer is unlike other malignant cancers, it grows slowly and rarely spreads to other organs. However, if it involves the eye it has the potential to completely destroy eyelids and may even grow into the socket of the eye and brain leading to death.
In most cases, Basal cell carcinoma occurs on the face, head (scalp included) and neck while others appear on the trunk or extremities.
Features of Basal cell carcinoma tumours include:
- Painless lump on the eyelid
- Occasional bleeding
- A skin ulcer which never heals
- Oozing or crusted areas
- Loss of eye lashes around the lump
- Slow growing
- May have black-blue or brown areas
The following will increase your risk of developing Basal cell carcinoma:
- Excessive exposure to ultraviolet rays
Exposure to the sun during childhood and adolescence is the major determinant of life-time potential of developing skin cancer. Intense intermittent exposure to sun is associated with a higher risk of Basal cell carcinoma than is a similar degree of daily exposure.
- Skin Types
Patients with a fair complexion are at greater risk of developing basal cell carcinoma.
- Chronically weakened immune system
Due to underlying infection (e.g. HIV infection) and patients on immunosuppression drugs are also at risk.
Smoking and frequent users of sunbed for skin tanning are also at risk.
- Previous scars
Basal cell carcinomas can also arise from skin scars, particularly following burns.
If the growth is affecting the eyelid region, it is best to see an oculoplastic surgeon for a thorough assessment. The diagnosis for Basal Cell Carcinoma is a biopsy. Prior to the biopsy, small tumours can be photographed and followed for evidence of growth.
The treatment that may be recommended:
Surgery: To remove the tumour until the margins (edges) are negative (free of tumour).
Most basal cell carcinomas are cured when they are small. Unfortunately, some patients choose to ignore or deny the existence of these tumours. Those patients allow their tumour to invade behind the eye and become difficult or impossible to remove. In these cases, combinations of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy may be required to control or destroy the tumour.