Eye cancer patients see with missing eyes

New research sheds light on the prevalence of phantom eye syndrome in patients who have lost an eye to uveal melanoma

11 Jun 2015 by Ryan O'Hare

Almost half of patients who lose an eye to cancer may experience pain or sensations of being able to see with their ‘phantom eye', according to a study by researchers at the University of Liverpool.

The experiences of patients with phantom eye syndrome (PES) are comparable to those of patients who feel pain or sensation in amputated limbs, and could be linked to anxiety and depression, say researchers.

In a study of 179 patients who had had one of their eyes amputated due to uveal melanoma in the previous four and a half years, the researchers found that almost half of patients reported symptoms of vision. While for most patients, the visual symptoms amounted to colours and patterns, 28% reported they felt they were able to “see.”

More than a third of patients reported experiencing symptoms every day, but symptoms stopped spontaneously in most patients. A number of patients (23%) also reported pain in the enucleated eye.

“These results are important because now we can tell patients not to be alarmed if they experience visual sensations or pain afterwards,” said Professor Heinrich Heimann, who leads the Liverpool Ocular Oncology Centre at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital where the study was conducted.

Professor Heimann added: “We can also warn them that, unfortunately, removing an eye does not guarantee that there will be no pain weeks or months afterwards.”

The authors write: “Because the symptoms can be disturbing to patients, it is important to inform all patients routinely of the possibility of PES symptoms but to assuage any distress.”

The group propose further study to identify whether pain is caused by, or a cause of depression and anxiety in patients who have had an eye amputated to uveal melanoma.

The research is published in Ophthalmology.

Image credit: Rachel Collins


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