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Orbital tumours

Tumors d’òrbita a Vall d'Hebron

A tumour is an abnormal growth of tissue. In the case of orbital tumours, this growth is located in the tissues around the eye, which may be muscles, bones, fat, the lacrimal gland, nerves and blood vessels. They are rare tumours of several different types that may appear at any age. Orbital tumours may be benign or malignant. Benign tumours may cause pain due to compressing or displacing the different structures in the eye socket. Malignant tumours, on the other hand, as well as spreading to neighbouring tissue, may produce metastasis in other unconnected organs or lymphatic nodules.




The most common symptom is a protrusion of the eyeball out of its socket, known as “exophthalmos”. However it can also cause loss of vision due to compression of the optic nerve, double vision, pain and can limit the movement of the eyeball.

In some cases, tumours may be present in the eye socket for an entire lifetime with no symptoms.


Who do orbital tumours affect?


It is hard to know the exact number of people affected by orbital tumours as it is a rare kind of tumour that includes several variants.

Benign tumours are the most common; capillary haemangiomas and dermoid cysts in children, and cavernous haemangiomas in adults.

The most common malignant tumours in children include rhabdomyosarcoma, and in adults lymphoma cancers of the lacrimal gland and metastases. 




Imaging studies (CT and nuclear magnetic resonance scans) allow precise location of the tumour, its size to be measured and certain biological characteristics to be known. This information, together with the patient's age and the speed of the tumour's growth, enables an initial assessment of whether or not it is malignant.

A definitive diagnosis is made after a biopsy of part or all of the tumour.


Typical treatment


In most cases, the main treatment is surgery to remove the tumour and therefore avoid the damage it may cause if left to grow within the eye socket by compressing or displacing the eyeball and other structures.

Modern-day orbital surgery techniques allow extraction of the tumour by making small incisions in areas that are hidden or not very visible. This enables faster postoperative recovery.

In the case of malignant tumours, different combinations of surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy are used. It should be noted that regular check ups are needed after treatment.

Where there are no symptoms, observation and monitoring of the speed of growth is usually sufficient.




There are currently no preventative guidelines to reduce the risk of orbital tumours.

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