Retinal Tumours

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PatientPlus articles are written by UK doctors and are based on research evidence, UK and European Guidelines. They are designed for health professionals to use, so you may find the language more technical than the condition leaflets.

See also: Retinoblastoma written for patients

Most tumours of the retina are extremely rare, the slightly more common ones (such as naevi) being benign. An overview of some of these tumours is provided here. They are all managed by ophthalmologists, usually in specialist or superspecialist centres, depending on the exact type of tumour.[1] See separate articles Retinoblastoma, Tumours of the Choroid and Choroidal Melanoma for more detail.

A rare and benign tumour of the retina ± optic nerve head. Isolated tumours are not usually associated with systemic disease but multiple or bilateral tumours are seen in patients with tuberous sclerosis and less commonly with neurofibromatosis.

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It is often asymptomatic but may present with leukocoria. Examination reveals a sessile yellow-white mass which can be mistaken for retinoblastoma. It may later become calcified. It may be associated with complications such as retinal detachment or glaucoma.


They are benign and do not require treatment in themselves. If acquired retinal astrocytoma can be diagnosed early then laser photocoagulation, cryotherapy, or radiotherapy could control the tumour and prevent any complications.

This is a rare, non-malignant but sight-threatening vascular hamartoma of the retinal or optic disc vasculature. It may be solitary or there can be multiple lesions. The former may occur in isolation (von Hippel disease) but about half of them occur in the context of systemic disease (von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) disease). All patients with multiple lesions have systemic disease. As there is an inherited component of VHL, if there is a single ocular lesion and a positive family history, the patient is deemed to have VHL. Various types of haemangiomas can occur:

  • Capillary haemangioma (by far the most common presentation): small well-defined orange-red nodules with associated dilatation and tortuosity of overlying vessels.
  • Exophytic haemangioma: sessile, ill-defined lesion associated with retinal oedema and haemorrhage ± retinal detachment.
  • Optic nerve head haemangioma.


  • Retinal capillary haemangiomas are most commonly detected in patients between ages 25 and 30 years. Their position is juxta-papillary in 17% of cases.[3] 
  • They may be asymptomatic and diagnosed on routine screening or may present with visual impairment (particularly in exophytic and optic nerve head haemangiomas).


  • Very small lesions may be managed conservatively but very closely monitored. Otherwise, treatment options include photocoagulation, cryotherapy or brachytherapy. Radiotherapy or surgical excision may also be considered.
  • Treatment with anti-vascular endothelial growth factor is emerging as a promising option, although it is early days and there has yet to be more research into both safety and efficacy.[4]
  • Photodynamic therapy can be effective in reducing macular oedema associated with retinal capillary haemangiomas but this does not always correspond with an improvement in visual acuity, especially for juxta-papillary tumours.[5]
  • Other treatment strategies include laser coagulation, radiation therapy, transpupillary thermotherapy and vitreoretinal surgery.[3]

Juxta-papillary lesions behave differently from peripheral lesions. Some remain stable for years and treatment of these lesions should only be undertaken if vision is reduced or if there is lesion progression, as treatment usually leads to significant reduction in acuity due to adverse effects on the optic nerve and major retinal vessels.[3] 


  • They show slow progression over time, but a small percentage may regress spontaneously.
  • If they enlarge over time and are left untreated, the risk of exudation and subretinal fluid accumulation, cystoid macular oedema, and retinal detachment increases, which can lead to progressive visual loss.

This is a rare, congenital, unilateral vascular hamartoma. In some patients, this is an autosomal dominant inherited condition which is associated with similar lesions of the skin and central nervous system (referred to as neuro-oculocutaneous phacomatosis or cavernoma multiplex).


  • This presents in the second to third decade (females more than males): usually this is a chance finding but, occasionally, patients present with decreased vision secondary to a vitreous haemorrhage.
  • Examination varies from small lesions that look a little like background diabetic retinopathy, to large vascular tortuosities which may show a fluid level within them as the red cells sediment because of the sluggish flow of blood.


This is usually managed conservatively although a large, non-resolving vitreous haemorrhage may require a vitrectomy (removal of the vitreous).


There is a variable outlook for patients with extensive lesions but most patients with localised pathology retain good vision.

This is a rare, usually unilateral, congenital arteriovenous malformation resulting in a direct communication between arteries and veins without an intervening capillary bed. This results in dilated, tortuous fundal vessels.

Wyburn-Mason's syndrome refers to a subgroup of these patients who have a combination of retinal and intracranial arteriovenous malformations.[7] In some instances, there are also lesions in the maxilla, mandible, orbit and facial skin.


it is usually a chance finding, although there may be visual impairment.


No treatment is available for retinal lesions but intracranial ones may be managed with surgery, radiotherapy or embolisation.


  • These vessels may occasionally result in haemorrhages if very large. Otherwise, there is neither deterioration nor improvement of vision.
  • The development of extensive retinal ischaemia including macular ischaemia resulting in rubeosis (abnormal blood vessel growth on the iris and the structures in the front of the eye) has been reported.[8] 
  • Wyburn-Mason's syndrome can be associated with irreversible neurological changes, stroke and death.

This is a rare tumour involving the glial cells and the vessels and is characterised by single or multiple nodules on the retinal surface. It usually occurs in healthy patients and is often mistaken for other pathologies (eg, retinal angiomas or amelanotic choroidal melanomas).

However, in 25% of cases, it arises as a complication of other ocular disease such as retinitis pigmentosa, uveitis, retinal detachment, congenital toxoplasmosis, and Coats' disease.[10] 


Most often, this presents in the fourth to sixth decade: there is blurring of vision ± floaters ± photopsia (flashing lights).


Observation (small, uncomplicated peripheral lesions), cryotherapy, laser photocoagulation or brachytherapy. Occasionally, vitreoretinal surgery is required.


  • This is varied between patients and may be non-progressing (or slowly progressing) in some patients and rapidly progressing in others. There is a guarded visual prognosis.
  • There are a number of complications that can further limit the outlook: haemorrhage, exudation, macular oedema and retinal detachment.

Congenital hypertrophy of the retinal pigment epithelium (CHRPE)

  • CHRPE is a benign clinical entity characterised by round, flat, dark gray or dark brown plaques, which are primarily found in the retinal mid-periphery but may also occur in more anterior locations or in the posterior pole, including the macula.[11] 
  • It is is a clinical diagnosis. The lesion is usually asymptomatic and is found incidentally on routine ophthalmoscopic examination.[11] 
  • CHRPE occurs in about 1% of the population. It is a proliferation of the retinal pigment epithelium associated with a hypertrophy of their melanin granules.
  • It is said to be typical or atypical.
    • Typical CHRPE - these may be solitary or grouped lesions which show various pigmentation patterns. These need to be clinically distinguished from melanoma.
    • Atypical CHRPE - these multiple, haphazardly placed lesions show variability in size and degree of pigmentation. These are bilateral. They may be associated with familial bowel polyps.
  • Typical lesions are simply observed over time. Individuals with atypical lesions need a prompt investigation of their family history for bowel disease.

Retinal pigment epithelium adenoma[12]

This is an unusual and benign condition and presents as a black lesion. It is monitored and managed conservatively.

Retinal pigment epithelium adenocarcinoma[12]

This is an extremely rare condition which, up until now, has not been found to spread beyond the eye. It is more documented in females and tends to present as a prolonged inflammation of the eye. Atypical choroidal melanoma is the initial diagnosis in almost all cases. Treatment is with enucleation of the eye.

Combined hamartoma of the retinal pigment epithelium and retina

This is a rare, usually unilateral malformation involving the retinal pigment epithelium, the retinal astrocytes and retinal vasculature. It tends to affect males and is found more commonly in patients with neurofibromatosis-2 (occasionally neurofibromatosis-1).[13]  It presents with decreased vision, floaters and leukocoria.

Hamartoma of the retinal pigment epithelium

  • Congenital simple hamartoma of retinal pigment epithelium (CSHRPE) is a rare, asymptomatic, and incidentally detected benign lesion.[14] 
  • It is an uncommon, well-circumscribed, jet-black lesion usually found at the macula.

Further reading & references

  1. Referral Guidelines for Adult Occular Tumors Including Choroidal Naevi; Royal College of Ophthalmologists, 2009
  2. Moskowitz C, Edelstein C, Oh M et al.; Retinal capillary hemangioma in von Hippel–Lindau disease. Can J Ophthalmol; 2005 40(2): 192-4.
  3. Chelala E, Dirani A, Fadlallah A; Intravitreal anti-VEGF injection for the treatment of progressive juxtapapillary retinal capillary hemangioma: a case report and mini review of the literature. Clin Ophthalmol. 2013;7:2143-6. doi: 10.2147/OPTH.S53243. Epub 2013 Oct 31.
  4. Ach T, Thiemeyer D, Hoeh AE, et al; Intravitreal bevacizumab for retinal capillary haemangioma: longterm results. Acta Ophthalmol. 2009 Jul 21.
  5. Papastefanou VP, Pilli S, Stinghe A, et al; Photodynamic therapy for retinal capillary hemangioma. Eye (Lond). 2013 Mar;27(3):438-42. doi: 10.1038/eye.2012.259. Epub 2013 Jan 4.
  6. Hewick S, Lois N, Olson JA; Circumferential Peripheral Retinal Cavernous Hemangioma. Arch Ophthalmol. 2004;122:1557-1560.
  7. Reck SD, Zacks DN, Eibschitz-Tsimhoni M; Retinal and intracranial arteriovenous malformations: Wyburn-Mason syndrome. J Neuroophthalmol. 2005 Sep;25(3):205-8.
  8. Panagiotidis D, Karagiannis D, Tsoumpris I; Spontaneous development of macular ischemia in a case of racemose hemangioma. Clin Ophthalmol. 2011;5:931-2. doi: 10.2147/OPTH.S21925. Epub 2011 Jul 8.
  9. Damato B; Vasoproliferative retinal tumour. Br J Ophthalmol. 2006; 90: 399-400.
  10. Ghorbanian S, Jaulim A, Chatziralli IP; Diagnosis and treatment of coats' disease: a review of the literature. Ophthalmologica. 2012;227(4):175-82. doi: 10.1159/000336906. Epub 2012 Mar 20.
  11. Youhnovska P, Toffoli D, Gauthier D; Congenital hypertrophy of the retinal pigment epithelium complicated by a choroidal neovascular membrane. Digit J Ophthalmol. 2013 May 1;19(2):24-7. doi: 10.5693/djo.02.2013.01.004. eCollection 2013.
  12. Retinal Pigment Epithelium (RPE) Tumors; Eye Cancer Network
  13. Kang HM, Koh HJ, Chung EJ; Spectral-domain optical coherence tomography of combined hamartoma of the retina and retinal pigment epithelium in neurofibromatosis. Korean J Ophthalmol. 2013 Feb;27(1):68-71. doi: 10.3341/kjo.2013.27.1.68. Epub 2012 Dec 18.
  14. Teke MY, Ozdal PC, Batioglu F, et al; Congenital simple hamartoma of retinal pigment epithelium: clinical and imaging findings. Case Rep Ophthalmol Med. 2012;2012:654502. doi: 10.1155/2012/654502. Epub 2012 Apr 9.

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.

Original Author:
Dr Olivia Scott
Current Version:
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Helen Huins
Document ID:
4166 (v4)
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