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Optom Vis Sci. 2014 Feb;91(2):e38-42. doi: 10.1097/OPX.0000000000000131.

Conjunctival metastasis as the presenting sign for stage IV lung cancer.

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  • 1*OD, FAAO Manchester Veteran's Administration Medical Center, Manchester, New Hampshire; New England College of Optometry, Boston, Massachusetts; and the Pennsylvania College of Optometry at Salus University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (all authors).



Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related death in North America. It is often diagnosed at an advanced stage, lending to a poor prognosis. Symptoms of lung cancer often do not present until more advanced stages. Common sites of lung cancer metastasis are the bones, liver, and brain. The etiology of eye masses ranges from the relatively benign to those with tremendous risk of morbidity, and the differentiation is often difficult clinically. This case highlights the importance of more detailed workup, including biopsy, to determine the exact nature of the lesion.


A 50-year-old white man was referred for evaluation of a "bump" on his right upper eyelid. He had noticed it for 1 month and noted enlargement during the past 2 weeks. He also reported that he had been smoking about one pack per day since 1969. External examination was remarkable for a 1.5-cm nodule pushing up from under the right upper lid. When the lid was everted, there was a 0.9-cm red and black vascularized sessile lesion on the palpebral conjunctiva. The patient was referred to an oculoplastics specialist to rule out a malignant or metastatic conjunctival neoplasm. The oculoplastics service performed an excisional biopsy, and the pathologic examination showed a poorly differentiated and highly aggressive non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). After systemic evaluation, he was diagnosed as having stage IV NSCLC, with metastases to the right eyelid, brain, liver, and right lung. He underwent multiple radiotherapy sessions. He died 5 months after our initial examination.


Stage IV NSCLC is incurable, and its treatment is often palliative. Conjunctival metastasis of stage IV NSCLC is rare, and it is clinically difficult to differentiate eyelid tumors as benign or concerning by examination alone. This case highlights the importance of a thorough history, referral, proper imaging, and biopsy to diagnose a metastatic neoplasm in a patient at high risk for cancer.

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