Leukemia can lead to uveitis by causing problems with the blood or if cancer cells enter the eye. Leukemia may also cause uveitis by increasing pressure inside the skull. For these reasons, uveitis can be a symptom of leukemia.

Leukemia can affect the entire body, whereas uveitis is a condition that only affects the eye.

Uveitis may lead to symptoms such as light sensitivity, eye pain, or vision loss, which sometimes can be total.

This article discusses leukemia and uveitis, first focusing on their connection. It then discusses how to find out whether uveitis is leukemia-induced and other symptoms of leukemia.

An eye representing uveitis. -1Share on Pinterest
Emilija Manevska/Getty Images

Scientists define leukemia as a condition in which leukocytes develop and proliferate abnormally.

Blood contains red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Leukocytes are white blood cells.

The bone marrow produces leukocytes before they enter the blood or the lymphatic system. Leukocytes help the body to fight bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

There are two main types of leukemia. Acute leukemia affects smaller and younger leukocytes, which can develop quickly. Doctors call them “blasts” when they exit the bone marrow. Contrastingly, chronic leukemia develops at a slow pace.

According to a 2023 review, uveitis is usually an inflammatory process that can affect the whole eye.

The inflammation may have infectious or noninfectious origins, such as autoimmune diseases or trauma.

Uveitis arises within different locations inside the eye, such as the iris, ciliary body, or uvea. However, it can quickly spread to all ocular structures.

Leukemia can sometimes cause uveitis. According to a 2021 paper, there are at least three ways in which leukemia may affect a person’s eye:

  • cancerous leukocytes can directly enter into the tissues of the eye
  • leukemia may cause dysfunctions of the blood, which can, in turn, lead to problems with the retina
  • leukemia can affect the central nervous system or increase the pressure within someone’s skull, causing problems with the eye

Any of these processes may cause a flood of cancerous leukocytes to overwhelm one or both eyes.

Doctors can determine whether someone has leukemia-induced uveitis with knowledge of their patient’s medical history.

Most patients with leukemia-associated uveitis have already received a diagnosis of leukemia.

In particular, if someone with uveitis meets any of the following conditions, their uveitis may be due to leukemia:

  • the individual has a leukemia diagnosis
  • the individual has had leukemia in the past
  • the individual has other symptoms of leukemia

Doctors may also find out that a person has leukemia-induced uveitis through a process of elimination. If the doctor can rule out other causes of uveitis, they can investigate whether leukemia is the cause.

As a recent review explains, there are many possible symptoms of leukemia. When it comes to acute leukemia, these include:

Chronic leukemia can present with the following symptoms:

  • swollen lymph nodes
  • swollen liver and spleen
  • bleeding or bruising easily

Leukemia can sometimes be asymptomatic. This is especially true of chronic leukemia because this condition develops slowly. Most chronic leukemia diagnoses are for people who show no symptoms.

Anyone with symptoms of uveitis or leukemia should contact a doctor.

Leukemia is a serious condition. The 5–year survival rate for leukemia is around 59%. However, an earlier diagnosis can mean better chances of survival because it allows doctors to start treatment early.

According to the 2023 review, the outlook for uveitis is good, provided a person receives proper and prompt treatment. Although doctors may struggle to provide a complete cure, treatment can avoid permanent vision loss.

This section answers some frequently asked questions about uvulitis and leukemia.

Which cancers cause uveitis?

Cancers occur when cells begin to grow in an uncontrolled way.

As this process unfolds, the cancer cells can spread to other body parts, including the eye. In this way, any cancer can cause uveitis.

For instance, there is evidence of uveitis stemming from lung cancer.

Is uveitis a symptom of cancer?

Uveitis can indeed be a symptom of cancer. However, uveitis far more often arises due to other causes.

For example, research shows that inflammatory disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis, are risk factors for uveitis. Multiple sclerosis and lupus can also cause uveitis.

What are the eye symptoms of leukemia?

There are many possible eye symptoms of leukemia. According to a 2019 review, these include eye hemorrhages, infections, and blocked eye veins. This can cause pain and vision problems.

Leukemia is a cancer of the leukocytes, which are white blood cells that play an important role in the immune system. This cancer can cause symptoms such as tiredness, bleeding, and bruising. However, it can also affect the eye.

Uveitis is an inflammation of any part of the eye. Without treatment, it can cause permanent vision loss. Leukemia may lead to this condition.

This may happen when cancerous leukocytes enter the eye. It can also arise because leukemia may cause problems with an individual’s blood. This can harm the retina.

Leukemia can also lead to problems with the brain, for instance, by raising pressure in the skull. This may damage the eyes as well.