Orbital Tumors | Ophthalmology | Loyola Medicine

Orbital Tumors

Overview and Facts about Orbital Tumors

An orbital tumor is a benign or malignant lesion located in the orbit — the bony socket in the front of the skull that contains and protects the eyeball. The orbit is a complex structure; in addition to the eye itself, the orbit contains muscles, nerves, and connective tissue. Tumors may form in any of these structures. Fortunately, malignant tumors of the orbit are rare.

Tumors may originate from the orbit (known as a primary tumor) or may spread from distant areas of the body (metastatic). There are several different types of orbital tumors; some tumors occur most commonly in children, while other types are more often diagnosed in adults.

Signs and Symptoms of Orbital Tumors

Symptoms of orbital tumors vary depending on the affected structure. The most common symptom is bulging or protrusion of the eye (proptosis). Other symptoms may include:

  • Numbness or tingling
  • Redness and swelling
  • Vision changes such as double vision or decreased vision
  • Pain
  • Swollen or droopy eyelid
  • Visible mass

Causes and Risk Factors of Orbital Tumors

Some orbital tumors develop when cancer in another part of the body (such as the lungs, prostate, and breast) spreads to the orbit. A form of skin cancer known as melanoma may also spread to the orbit. While the exact cause of tumors originating in the orbit is unknown, inflammation or infection may play a role. Orbital tumors in children are believed to be a result of developmental abnormalities.

Tests and Diagnosis of Orbital Tumors

An individual experiencing symptoms of an orbital tumor will likely seek the advice of a primary care physician or eye doctor first. If a tumor is suspected, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT) scan can help determine the location and size of the tumor, as well as the type of tumor. An MRI uses a powerful magnetic field, radio frequency pulses, and a computer to produce detailed pictures, while a CT scan uses sophisticated x-ray technology to help detect diseases and conditions. A surgical biopsy may also be performed to provide a definitive diagnosis.

Treatment and Care for Orbital Tumors

When a tumor is benign and not causing symptoms, it may be observed without treatment. When vision changes and other troublesome symptoms occur, surgical removal is often recommended. Due to the complexity of this delicate structure, surgery should only be performed by a skilled specialist with advanced training in removing orbital tumors.

Surgery typically provides a cure for benign tumors. For malignant tumors, surgery may be followed by radiation and chemotherapy. One non-invasive alternative is stereotactic radiosurgery. This type of surgery involves using a highly focused beam of radiation to target and destroy the tumor.