Eye Problems


Some chemotherapy drugs may cause eye problems, ranging from minor dry eyes to an increased risk of cataracts, which may lead to progressive loss of vision. Symptoms of eye problems should not be ignored; notify your doctor immediately if you have cloudy vision, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, severe eye pain, a persistent increase in tearing, or a sudden loss of vision.

What eye problems might be associated with cancer treatment?

Some cancer treatments may cause problems with your eyes, such as conjunctivitis, cataracts, dry eyes, photophobia, and watery eyes.

Conjunctivitis - This condition, also known as “pink eye,” is caused by a viral or bacterial infection, or an allergic reaction. Chemotherapy drugs tend to suppress your immune system, making you more susceptible to infection. These drugs can also kill the rapidly multiplying cells of the conjuntiva causing redness and tearing.

Cataracts - Cataracts are a cloudy area in the lens of your eye that prevents light from passing through. They are painless, but do lead to a progressive loss of vision. Cataracts usually occur in one eye and won’t spread to the other.

Dry eyes - Your eyes will feel dry if you are not producing enough tears, or if your tears are lacking an important chemical involved in lubricating your eyes.

Photophobia - Sensitivity to light is called photophobia. This condition causes pain in your eyes when you move from a dark space to a light one, such as going outside during the daytime.

Watery eyes - Some drugs cause you to produce too many tears, leading to watery eyes.

Which treatments cause eye problems?

Chemotherapy drugs that may cause eye problems are listed in the following table.

Eye Problems



Xeloda® (capecitabine)

BiCNU® (carmustine)

 Ellence® (epirubicin)


Neumega® (oprelvekin)



Targretin® (bexarotene)






Dry eyes

(Vesanoid®) isotretinoin

 (Accutane®) tretinoin


 Ara-C® (cytarabine)




Watery eyes

Xeloda® (capecitabine)


 (Adriamycin®) doxorubicin


Taxotere® (docetaxel)


What are some symptoms of eye problems?

You should notify your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Cloudy vision
  • Blurred vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Severe eye pain
  • Sudden loss of vision
  • Persistent and bothersome tearing, especially if you are receiving docetaxel.

What are the treatments for eye problems?

How your eye problems are treated depends on your diagnosis and how severe your condition is. Frequently if the symptoms are related to a drug, decreasing the dose or temporarily discontinuing it may help. Medicine for eye problems is often administered in eyedrops. If docetaxel-induced tearing occurs, your tear ducts can be permanently scarred and stents (tubes to bypass the scarring) may be needed. If you have symptoms of eye problems, notify your doctor immediately.

This content was last reviewed August 15, 2010 by Dr. Reshma L. Mahtani.
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