Melanoma of the Eye – Surgery at Sydney Eye Hospital

Part of the About your eyes series – this film contains information about your eye condition and what happens if you need surgery.

Produced by Sydney Eye Hospital Foundation to help you and your family to better understand the experience.

Narrated by Noni Hazlehurst

What is melanoma of the eye?
Will I be awake during surgery?
How does radiotherapy work?
What happens on the day of surgery?
When can I go home?

These questions and more are answered in a short film about eye surgery at the Sydney Eye Hospital. Featuring animation explaining how the eye works and actors modelling patients as they step through the process of having surgery.


Melanoma of the eye is rare but can be life-threatening.

To understand it, it helps to know how the eye works.

Light travels through the cornea and is focused by the lens onto the retina, the light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye.

It’s here that a melanoma can form.

Melanoma has the ability to spread to other parts of your body so it’s a risk to your life as well as your sight.

Early diagnosis and treatment are essential.

You may need surgery and your doctor will discuss the risks and benefits of the surgery as it specifically relates to you.

With advanced eye melanomas removing the eye may be the safest solution. This is called enucleation.

Your eye doctor may remove the part of your eye that contains the melanoma to preserve some vision but, in many cases, small to medium sized melanomas can be treated with radiation therapy.

It works like this, a small radioactive plaque about the size and shape of a 10-cent coin is attached to the surface of the eye the plaque is curved and emits a small but constant radiation to kill the cancer cells.

This treatment involves two surgeries, the first to stitch the plaque to the surface of the eye and the second to take it off.

So, what happens on the day of your surgery?

A great deal of care is taken to make sure that the information about you is accurate and up-to-date.

You may be asked more than once about your medical history and what medications you’re currently taking.

Your eye will be marked to alert medical staff when preparing for your surgery.

You will need an anaesthetic.

Most eye surgery is done under local anaesthetic, that is an injection or drops are used to numb the eye.

Before this a sedative is given to help you relax.

You may feel drowsy, but you will remain conscious however you should not see or feel anything during the operation and may not remember it either.

Surgery to attach a plaque usually takes about one hour.

Afterwards you’ll be taken to a recovery area where you can recover from the sedative.

You may experience some discomfort in your eye as a result of the surgery, but a mild painkiller can help.

You will need to remain in hospital for four to five days while the plaque is on your eye.

During your stay in hospital your eye will be covered with a protective lead shield.

You can have visitors during your stay in hospital, but it is recommended due to the presence of radiation that no babies or pregnant visitors be admitted.

Your eye doctor will continue to check the condition of your eye at six monthly appointments.

It may be several months before you’ll know if the therapy has been successful.

It is possible that the therapy will not cause the tumour to shrink but may stop it from growing or spreading elsewhere.

Radiation therapy is a life-saving therapy which has the added benefit of saving the eye and possibly some vision.

Sydney Eye Hospital is a specialist Centre for the treatment of Eye Melanoma.

The hospital is supported through the fundraising initiatives of the Sydney.

Eye Hospital Foundation in the interest of quality eye care for all.

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