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Pediatric Orbital and Ocular Tumors

What Are Orbital and Ocular Tumors?

Orbital and ocular tumors are benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous) tumors that develop in or around the eyes. Many of these types of tumors are congenital (present at birth) and are benign.

Whether they are benign or malignant, orbital and ocular tumors can cause vision problems or disfigurement if they are left untreated. They can also spread to the optic nerve, the brain, and the rest of the body and become life-threatening.

What Causes Orbital and Ocular Tumors?

Among the known causes for orbital and ocular tumors in children are the following:

  • Developmental abnormalities such as an overgrowth of benign (e.g., dermoid cyst, hemangioma) or malignant (retinoblastoma) cells
  • Cancer that has spread from another part of the body
  • Problems with blood vessels, including reduced blood flow or overgrowth of capillaries

Types of Orbital and Ocular Tumors

The most common orbital and ocular tumors in babies and children are:

  • Dermoid cysts: Benign sac containing fluid and benign tissues that do not belong to the eye or its surrounding area
  • Capillary hemangiomas: Benign growth of tiny blood vessels (most common type)
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma: Cancerous tumor that grows in muscle or connective tissue
  • Retinoblastoma: Cancerous tumor that grows inside the retina of the eye

Symptoms of Orbital and Ocular Tumors

Symptoms of orbital and ocular tumors vary depending on whether they are benign or malignant and where they are. Some symptoms that you may notice in your child include:

  • Pupil that is white, larger than normal, or reddish and painful
  • Redness or swelling near the eye, usually painless
  • Bright red birthmark on or near the eye
  • Bulging or crossed eye

How Are Orbital and Ocular Tumors Diagnosed?

If your child shows any of these symptoms, the pediatrician may recommend one or more of these tests to find out the cause:

  • Medical eye exam by an ophthalmologist to examine the eyeball and orbit for tumors
  • Diagnostic imaging, including ultrasound, CT, and MRI scans, to assess tumor type, size, location and origin
  • Blood or bone marrow tests to see whether cancer has spread to other parts of the body

Treatments for Orbital and Ocular Tumors

At Children’s National, our pediatric specialists have a range of treatment options to target orbital and ocular tumors, whether or not they are cancerous. These options include:

  • Surgery to remove tumors
  • Radiation therapy to target cancer cells and tumors
  • Chemotherapy to kill cancer cells throughout the body
  • Laser therapy to kill tumor cells or close off blood vessels that supply blood to tumors
  • Cryotherapy (use of cold substances) to freeze and destroy tumor tissue
Learn more about our Ophthalmology program at Children’s National.
Children's Team

Children's Team


William Madigan

William Madigan

Division Chief, Ophthalmology
Chairman, Pediatric Ophthalmology Fellowship Program



Our specialized pediatric ophthalmologists are experts at recognizing and treating complex eye conditions in infants and children.


Our oncology (cancer) team provides personalized treatment plans for children with cancer, including access to clinical trials.

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