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I have a pinkish, fleshy growth in my eye. Is it a cancer?

July 9, 2012

Have you seen this growth in anyone’s eye? It’s a fleshy growth on the surface of the eye that can grow into the cornea and block the vision. It’s called pterygium (ter-ree-germ).

What is pterygium?

This is a growth of tissue on the surface of the eye. It is not a cancer. It is usually due to excessive exposure to sunlight. This can cause problems with vision if it distorts the cornea. It also will often cause irritation and redness of the eye.

How is it removed?

If the pterygium causes discomfort or affects vision, it can be excised (cut off). The bare area is then covered with a normal conjunctiva (skin of the white surface of the eye, underneath the eyelid). This is like a skin graft done on other areas of the body. It is easily done and reduces recurrence rates to about 10%. The traditional way to perform the surgery is to stitch on the graft. There is a special medical grade glue available for use such that stitches are no longer needed. This reduces the scratchy sensation, reduces inflammation and also the chances of the growth recurring.

What will it be like after surgery?

The procedure is done under local anaesthesia. Eye drops are to be used about 4 times a day. The eye will feel scratchy as the surface is uneven. This will last for about 1 – 2 weeks.

When can one return to work after the surgery?

One can return to work after about a week. The eye will look red, this is normal and will gradually go away by about 1 week after surgery. The wound heals nicely over time and the eye appears normal again.

What can go wrong?

The surgery is very safe, with chance of sight threatening problems at less than 1 in 5000. Occasionally there is some bleeding or a mild infection, but this is rare.

Pterygium is often confused with cataract (lens of the eyeball turning opaque with time) since they are both called “mo” in Hokkien as a layman term for a veil. Pterygium is on the surface of the eye and can easily be seen – the patient looking in the mirror or his relative telling him there is a pink growth in his eye.

I was interviewed for an article that was published in the Stratis Times about this eye disease in July 2011:

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