Cataracts after Childhood Cancer

Certain childhood cancer treatments can increase risk for developing cataracts, which cloud the clear lens of the eye. Vision problems can have a major impact on daily living, so it is important for survivors who are at risk for cataracts to have their eyes checked when needed.

What Is a Cataract?

A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye, which is normally clear. They grow slowly, but as the clouding worsens vision can be affected.

Common symptoms of cataracts include:

  • Painless blurring of vision
  • Sensitivity to light and glare
  • Double vision in one eye
  • Poor night vision
  • Fading or yellowing of colors
  • Need for frequent changes in prescriptions for eyeglasses or contact lenses

Not all cataracts need treatment. In many cases, an ophthalmologist may monitor your vision for years before treatment is needed. The only treatment is to remove the lens and replace it with an artificial one. It's a low-risk procedure that is done on an outpatient basis. It is usually very successful in restoring vision.

Am I at Risk?

Survivors who received certain medicines, such as busulfan and corticosteroids, have a higher risk for cataracts. Radiation to the eye and surrounding area, head or brain, and whole body also increases risk. Risk goes up with higher radiation doses, exposure to sunlight, and time since treatment.

How Can I Keep My Eyes Healthy?

All survivors should have routine eye exams. A full eye exam should be performed by an ophthalmologist every year if you had:

  • Radiation to the whole body;
  • High doses of radiation to the head, brain, or eyes; or
  • A tumor involving the eye.

If you had lower doses of radiation, you’ll need a full eye exam only once every three years.

You can also protect your vision by following these tips:

  • Wear sunglasses with UV protection when in bright sunlight.
  • When doing sports wear protective eyewear that is right for the sport.
  • Never play with fireworks or sparklers.
  • Be careful when working with household chemicals.
  • Wear protective eyewear when using yard equipment and when working with dangerous equipment in the workshop.
  • Seek medical attention right away if an eye injury occurs.

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 7.8

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