Symptoms of a tumor behind your eye may include vision changes, a bulging eye, and general eye irritation. Most eye tumors aren’t cancerous, but symptoms alone can’t offer an accurate diagnosis.

Tumors near your eye, or the area around or behind your eye, are called orbital tumors. Most tumors or masses near your eye are benign (not cancerous).

Though rare, cancerous tumors near or behind your eye can occur. Symptoms of tumors behind your eye vary based on what type of tumor you have. But symptoms may include vision difficulties, a bulging eyeball, and trouble with eyeball movement.

Here, we’ll look at the different types of tumors you may experience near or behind your eye, a description of possible symptoms, how these tumors may be treated, and what the outlook is for someone who has an orbital tumor.

Your eye’s orbits are the areas in your skull where your eyeballs (globes), eye muscles, nerves, blood vessels, and connective tissue are located. The walls of your orbits are made up of thin bones.

A tumor can develop anywhere in the orbital space of your eye, including in the back of your eye. Because the space surrounding your eye is so small and confined, even a tiny tumor can have a strong impact.

Masses in the orbital space may consist of abnormal tissue and can be inflammatory or infectious in nature. Although the idea of a tumor near or behind your eye can sound scary and your first thought might be that these masses must be cancerous, the majority of eye tumors are benign, meaning they’re noncancerous.

Overall, eye tumors affect about 1 in 100,000 people. One study looked at 2,480 people with eye tumors and found that 68% of the tumors were benign. According to the study, the most common benign eye tumors were dermoid cysts and cavernous hemangiomas.

Cancerous eye tumors are less common. Clinical data from a 2021 review article revealed that the most common primary orbital malignancies involved lymphoma, and lacrimal gland carcinoma.

The type of cancer most likely to affect the orbit of your eye (the tissues that surround your eye) are called primary malignant orbital tumors. They’re extremely rare. In adults, the most common type of cancerous orbital tumor is a lymphoproliferative lesion. The most common type in children is rhabdomyosarcoma.

Symptoms of a tumor behind your eye will vary based on the kind of tumor you have, its size, and its location.

Symptoms of benign eye tumors may include:

  • proptosis (bulging eyes)
  • pupil changes, including change in shape or size
  • eye movements restrictions, which may include eye movement limitation or paralysis
  • swelling of your eye tissues
  • cornea damage
  • vision changes
  • double vision
  • eye irritation
  • pulsating feeling in your eye

Sometimes pain may be present in a benign eye tumor, but pain is usually worse the larger the tumor is. At times, a benign mass may rupture, causing hemorrhaging and sudden pain. Make sure to contact a healthcare professional if you experience these symptoms or any new eye symptoms.

Symptoms of cancerous eye tumors may resemble many of the symptoms of benign tumors. Possible symptoms include:

  • vision changes, such as blurry vision or vision loss
  • pain alongside your temple
  • loss of sensation to the general area
  • seeing floaters or flashes of light
  • field of vision loss
  • a dark spot on your iris (the part of your eye with color)
  • pupil changes, including change in shape or size
  • bulging eyeball
  • limited eye movement or change in movement

Pain isn’t always experienced with cancerous eye tumors, but pain may mean that the cancer has grown or that the cancer has moved to other parts of your eye or your body.

Tumors behind your eye or in your orbital eye space may have different causes, based on the type of tumor it is.

For example, the most common types of benign orbital tumors are dermoid cysts and cavernous hemangiomas. Dermoid cysts are congenital, meaning that they occur before you’re born. They arise during early fetal development when your tissues don’t grow together properly. Usually, the cyst enlarges during childhood.

The causes of cavernous hemangiomas are unknown. But they’re more common in women, including postmenopausal women, and are associated with rare diseases like rubber bleb nevus syndrome and Maffucci syndrome.

The exact causes of cancerous eye tumors are also not known. Medical experts believe that DNA changes in cells can cause certain cells to become cancerous. These DNA changes are hereditary in nature, which means they’re likely to be passed on from your family members.

Treatments for orbital tumors behind your eye will vary depending on the type of tumor and its size and location. When tumors aren’t serious or aren’t causing significant symptoms, a “watch-and-wait” approach might be used. Other times, more invasive measures must be taken, like surgery.

Benign tumors

Cavernous hemangiomas can be left alone if they aren’t causing issues. But sometimes, they need to be removed surgically. Dermoid cysts often need to be surgically excised, especially as they grow in size.

Cancerous tumors

Slow-growing tumors may only require watchful waiting. But when tumors are more serious, various treatment approaches may be used, including radiation therapy to shrink your tumor and surgery to remove it.

The outlook for someone with a benign eye tumor is usually favorable. But larger tumors or tumors that are more difficult to treat may cause ongoing eye difficulties, such as vision issues and bulging eyeballs.

Your survival rate with eye cancer depends on the type of cancer you have, as well as when you received the diagnosis. Your age and overall health when you received the diagnosis also affect your long-term outcomes.

Cancers caught earlier are more survivable. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the 5-year survival rate for eye cancer is 80%. If the cancer is diagnosed early, the survival rate increases to 85%.

It’s important to remember that every individual with cancer is unique. Doctors and other healthcare professionals treat people with cancer, not cancer statistics.

It’s not common to have a tumor in your eye area. Symptoms of a tumor behind your eye vary, but many include vision changes, bulging eyeballs, eye irritation, and changes in eye movement.

If you have any of these symptoms, visit a healthcare professional right away. Most eye tumors are benign, and cancerous eye tumors can be successfully treated, especially when caught early.