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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 cancer’s progression. Although it is one of the most common treatments for mesothelioma, it has several uncomfortable and even serious side effects. Nausea and hair loss are the most common side effects. These symptoms are not permanent, resolving after completion of treatment. Vision problems are also possible side effects of chemotherapy. Some of vision problems may be temporary, but others can be long-lasting and have a big impact on eye health.

How Chemotherapy Works

Chemotherapy is a crucial tool for fighting mesothelioma because it can slow tumor growth and metastasis. Most chemotherapy drugs are administered intravenously, with the specific drug combination varying by the patient and the type of cancer being treated. These drugs circulate through the bloodstream, killing cells that grow and divide rapidly. Because these drugs circulate through the entire body, they affect both cancer and healthy cells. When healthy cells are destroyed by chemotherapy drugs, the patient experiences serious side effects, including vision problems.

Chemotherapy’s Effect on the Eyes

One way chemotherapy may harm a patient’s eyes is through the immune system. Chemotherapy suppresses the immune system which makes the patient more vulnerable to infections. This includes infections like conjunctivitis that affect the eyes. Also, infections can be more difficult to treat while the patient is undergoing chemo treatment.

Some chemotherapy drugs may distort a patient’s vision. These vision changes are caused by underlying drug complications. Chemotherapy may cause cataracts, which cloud the lenses in the eyes. Treatment may also increase pressure in the eyes or damage the optic nerve. Damage to the optic nerve is called optic neuropathy.

Eye symptoms that a mesothelioma patient may experience while undergoing chemotherapy 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. These should be treated immediately. Patients who experience sudden and severe eye pain, sudden loss or change of vision, 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. Some chemotherapy medications are more likely to affect the eyes. These medications 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, including periorbital edema, internuclear ophthalmoplegia, and keratitis photophobia. While not common, these eye complications can be uncomfortable, cause distress, and can disturb your vision.

Periorbital edema is the collection of fluid around the eyes. This causes swelling that is sometimes called puffy eyes. This condition is not serious, but can be uncomfortable. It changes the appearance of the face which can make some patients self-conscious. To reduce edema, drink plenty of water, limit salt intake, apply cold compresses to the eyes, or using anti-inflammatory drugs.

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

Keratitis photophobia is sensitivity to light caused by an infection. Because drugs like methotrexate suppress the immune system, they make a patient more vulnerable to infections. Eye infections can result in photophobia. The only treatment options for photophobia is to treat the eye infection directly or to discontinue chemotherapy medications. Otherwise, photophobia can be best managed by avoiding bright lights. In addition, special glasses that filter out certain types of light can be helpful when bright sunlight is unavoidable.

Coping with Chemotherapy-Related Vision Changes

Most vision side effects caused by chemotherapy are not serious or permanent. However, they can be uncomfortable and disorienting. Some of the most common symptoms are dry, itchy, and red eyes. Talk to your doctor about what kinds of drops you can use. You should also avoid wearing contact lenses and blink more frequently to lubricate the eyes.

If you experience light sensitivity, use steroidal eye drops. You can also wear simple sunglasses, even indoors for relief. Prevention is the best medicine for eye infections. If possible, avoid touching your eyes. You should also avoid eye makeup and contact lenses. If you experience dry eyes, ask your doctor about eye drops. Halos, rainbows, yellow tinge, and changes to colors are typically temporary. However, cataract can be serious and may require surgery.

If you experience eye problems or vision changes during chemotherapy, it can be uncomfortable, disorienting, and even painful. Talk to your doctor about what you can do. It may be possible to change your chemotherapy medications. Eye problems are uncommon and typically not serious. However, it is important to tell your doctor about all complications and to take steps to correct them if possible.

Some eye complications may become more serious over time. This could lead to irreversible damage. Speak to your doctor if you experience any vision problems during or after chemotherapy. If you have existing eye problems, be sure to talk to your oncologist before you begin chemotherapy treatments. These can worsen with treatment. You may need to see an eye doctor to evaluate your eyes and determine if there are 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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