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Tumors of the Anterior Uvea (Iris and Ciliary Body) in Cats

By: Dr. Noelle McNabb

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Veterinary care includes diagnostic tests and subsequent treatment recommendations, as outlined below:

Diagnosis In-depth

Diagnostic tests are performed to determine if the anterior uveal tumor is confined to the eye or if other organs or body cavities are affected with tumor. The results of these tests help define what is the most appropriate treatment. These tests may include:

  • A complete history and thorough physical examination, including palpation for enlarged lymph nodes, and swollen, enlarged or irregularly shaped abdominal organs. Your veterinarian will listen to the chest with a stethoscope to help determine whether the heart and lung sounds are normal. When tumors or fluid accumulate in the chest, these sounds are often muffled.

  • Complete ophthalmic examination including testing of pupillary light reflexes, Schirmer tear test, fluorescein staining of the cornea, tonometry to measure the pressure within the eye, and examination of the interior of the eye under magnification. Your veterinarian may refer your cat to a veterinary ophthalmologist for further evaluation using specialized instrumentation.

  • Gonioscopy, a specialized test to examine the area in the front of the eye where fluid leaves the eye. This helps to determine if the uveal tumor is extending into and/or obstructing this drainage angle.

  • Ocular ultrasound to delineate the boundaries of the intraocular tumor. It is also useful to determine if retinal detachment or lens displacement has occurred and may help to determine if the tumor extends behind the eye.

  • Aqueocentesis (fluid sample taken from the anterior chamber of the eye) and fine-needle aspirate of the uveal mass may be useful in distinguishing certain infections (fungal, protozoal, parasitic) from a cancerous process.

  • Routine blood work (complete blood count, serum biochemistry) and urinalysis are usually done to assess the function of other organs.

  • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) testing is often done as FeLV-positive cats are at an increased risk for developing cancer, especially lymphosarcoma.

  • Bone marrow aspirate and cytology may be done if lymphosarcoma or other bone marrow cancers are suspected.

  • Chest X-rays are usually taken to search for masses or tumors, enlarged lymph nodes, and fluid in the chest.

  • Abdominal X-rays may be taken to search for organ enlargement, masses and enlarged lymph nodes in the abdomen. These X-rays may be followed by an abdominal ultrasound if any abnormalities are discovered.

  • Computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be used to examine the eye, orbit, optic nerve and brain. These tests are most useful if extension of the uveal tumor into the orbit or brain is suspected.

    Treatment In-depth

    Treatment of anterior uveal tumors may be divided into either medical management or surgical therapy. Most anterior uveal tumors in the cat are not treatable with medical therapy and require surgery to remove the eye.

    Medical Management

    Medical treatment alone is usually not enough to treat primary anterior uveal tumors. Typically, the inflammation caused by the tumor expansion within the eye does not respond well to medical therapy.

    In the early stages of uveal lymphosarcoma, chemotherapy may induce regression of the tumor and the cat may go into remission. However, eyes that develop secondary glaucoma from advanced lymphosarcoma may not respond as well to chemotherapy, and may remain painful and blind.

    Response to medical treatment for all other secondary uveal tumors is generally poor and ultimately most of these tumors require that the eye be surgically removed.

    Surgical Management

    Enucleation is the most common therapy for many anterior uveal tumors in the cat. Often these eyes are painful due to secondary glaucoma, uveitis or hyphema.        

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