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Mesothelioma Chemotherapy and Vision and Eye Health

For patients with mesothelioma, chemotherapy is an important tool in the battle to slow the progression of the cancer. It is one of the most common treatments for mesothelioma, but it has side effects and unwanted complications. While things like nausea or hair loss are most common and not permanent, vision problems are also possible when undergoing chemotherapy. Some of these may be temporary, but others can be long-lasting and may have a big impact on eye health.

How Chemotherapy Works

Chemotherapy is a crucial tool for fighting mesothelioma because it can slow or even stop tumor growth and metastasis. Most chemotherapy drugs are given intravenously. The combination of drugs used depends on the cancer and the patient. The drugs circulate through the bloodstream, killing cells that are rapidly growing and dividing, both cancer and healthy cells. Because the drugs kill some healthy cells, chemotherapy can cause serious side effects, including vision problems.

Chemotherapy’s Effect on the Eyes

One way chemotherapy may hurt a patient’s eyes is through the immune system. Chemotherapy suppresses the immune system, making patients more vulnerable to infections. This includes infections in the eyes, like conjunctivitis. Infections are harder to treat while on chemotherapy medications as well.

Some chemotherapy drugs may actually affect how patients see, distorting or lessening vision. This occurs because of underlying complications caused by the drugs. Chemotherapy may cause cataracts, which cloud the lenses in the eyes. Treatment may also increase pressure in the eyes or damage the optic nerve, which is called optic neuropathy.

Eye symptoms that a mesothelioma patient undergoing chemotherapy may experience include:

  • Vision loss or vision changes.
  • Dimness in the perception of colors.
  • Blurry or misty vision.
  • Sensitivity to light.
  • Seeing rainbows or halos around light sources.
  • Seeing a yellowish tinge.
  • Dry and sore eyes.
  • Watery eyes.

Some symptoms may be severe or sudden and should be treated right away. Patients who experience sudden and severe eye pain, sudden loss or change of eyesight, an infection that won’t go away, or sudden sensitivity to light should contact their doctor immediately.

Chemotherapy Drugs Most Likely to Cause Vision Problems

Any chemotherapy drug can cause side effects and complications, including vision changes, and other cancer treatments can cause issues, too. Some chemotherapy medications are more likely to affect the eyes. These include Taxotere (generic name docetaxel), Ixempra (generic name ixabepilone), Adrucil (generic name fluorouacil), cisplatin, and methotrexate.

Methotrexate and Eye Complications

Methotrexate is the potentially eye-damaging chemotherapy drug most often used to treat mesothelioma. This medication causes eye complications in some patients: periorbital edema, internuclear ophthalmoplegia, and keratitis photophobia. While not common, these can be uncomfortable and can cause distress and can disturb and worsen your vision.

Periorbital edema is the collection of fluid and swelling around the eyes, sometimes called puffy eyes. It is not serious, but can be uncomfortable and changes the appearance of the face which can bother patients. Drinking more water and limiting salt, using a cold compress, or using anti-inflammatory drugs may help reduce the edema.

Internuclear ophthalmoplegia is nerve damage that affects the ability to move the eyes horizontally. This can be uncomfortable, disorienting, and can reduce vision or cause double vision. Treatment for this condition is not always straightforward and may require discontinuation of the medication.

Keratitis photophobia is sensitivity to light caused by an infection. Drugs like methotrexate make a patient more vulnerable to infections because they suppress the immune system. An infection in the eye can cause photophobia and the only real treatment is to treat the infection or discontinue the medication. Otherwise, photophobia can be managed with special glasses that filter out certain types of light and by avoiding bright lights.

Coping with Chemotherapy-Related Vision Changes

Most vision side effects of chemotherapy are not serious or permanent, but they can be uncomfortable or disorienting. If you have concerns about your eyes, talk to your doctor. You can also take certain steps to cope with these changes while you continue to undergo chemotherapy. Some of the most common symptoms are dry, itchy, and red eyes. Talk to your doctor about what kinds of drops you can use, avoid wearing contact lenses, and blink more frequently to lubricate the eyes.

For light sensitivity, wear sunglasses, even indoors, or use steroidal eye drops. For infections, prevention is best. Prevent eye infections by avoiding touching your eyes, avoiding contact lenses, and not using eye makeup. For dryness and soreness, ask your doctor for a recommendation for eye drops that will help. Halos, rainbows, yellow tinge, and changes to colors should be temporary and are not serious. But cataracts are serious and may require surgery.

If you experience eye problems or vision changes while undergoing chemotherapy for mesothelioma, it can be uncomfortable, disorienting, and even painful. Talk to your doctor about what you can do and if changing your medication may help. Most eye problems are uncommon and not serious, but it is important to keep on top of all complications caused by chemotherapy and to take steps to correct them if possible.

Some eye complications may become more serious over time, leading to irreversible damage. So speak to your doctor about any eye or vision problems you experience while going through chemotherapy and after treatment is finished. It is also important to talk to your oncologist in advance of chemotherapy if you have existing eye problems. These can become worse with treatment and you may need to see an eye doctor to evaluate your eyes and to help determine if there are any chemotherapy drugs you should avoid.

Page Edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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