Iris Nevi and Iris Tumors

Download a pamphlet on Iris Tumors

The iris (plural: irides) is a thin, circular organ within the eye which constricts (gets smaller) or dilates (gets bigger) in order to control the amount of light that reaches the retina. A patient’s “eye color” is the color of the iris which can be blue, gray, green, hazel, brown, or any combination of these.

Different kinds of iris masses exist: benign growths such as cysts, freckles (known as nevi), growth of blood vessels, and others. Malignant tumors such as iris or iridiociliary melanomas or metastases (cancers that spread to the iris from other parts of the body) can also develop.

Iris nevi (freckles) are very common. Most people who have them:

  • Are Caucasian
  • Are 40-60 years of age
  • Have light eyes (blue, green, gray)

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Iris freckles can be brown, yellow, or grayish in color. They can be small and flat or small and elevated. They sometimes have cysts (fluid-filled spaces) in them which can be detected on ultrasound.

Most of the time, the freckles occur at the bottom half of the iris. Many of them never change or grow or some grow very slowly. Rarely, they can grow into an iris melanoma, a malignant tumor of the iris.

Biopsies are sometimes required for iris tumors, but most of them can be diagnosed clinically with an ophthalmic exam, photos, ultrasound, and other forms of testing.

For most iris masses, observation alone is the initial treatment, as many of them stay stable or grow very slowly over time and do not require any treatment.

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For iris melanoma, a malignant tumor that arises from the iris itself, treatment consists of surgery to remove the tumor, radiation, or sometimes even just observation. Iris tumors tend to be small and grow much more slowly and metastasize less often than malignant tumors that arise from other parts of the eye.

Metastasis to the eye (cancer which arises in another part of the body and travels to the eye) is relatively rare and often regresses when the underlying cancer is treated with systemic (intravenous) chemotherapy, but is sometimes treated with surgery or radiation.