“When was your last colonoscopy?” It has been some time apparently, if this question is asked by your eye doctor. While strange, it is not out of line if your eye exam gives them reason to pause. When you have a comprehensive eye exam, your eye doctor will dilate your eye and take digital pictures of your retina. When eye doctors detect multiple, dark areas of pigmentation or lesion in the retina, it could be an indication of a Gardner Syndrome. Gardner’s syndrome is a rare genetic disorder. It usually starts with be benign or noncancerous growths but left unchecked, overtime, can cause colon cancer. Although regular colonoscopies should detect these growths, many are averse to the unpleasantness of the procedure, and may indefinitely delay their appointment. The eyes can reveal underlying health issues and systemic diseases you may not be aware you had.
“Systemic diseases are diseases that involve many organs or the whole body. Many of these diseases also affect the eyes. In fact, an eye exam sometimes leads to the first diagnosis of a systemic disease.” According to the University of Illinois’ College of Medicine, some common system diseases that affect the eyes are Diabetes, Hypertension (or High Blood Pressure), AIDS, Graves’ Disease, Sarcoidosis, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Atherosclerosis, Sickle Cell Disease and Multiple Sclerosis. However, the eyes may reveal other possible systemic illnesses such as different types of cancer.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) lists the presence of “congenital hypertrophy of the retinal pigment epithelium (a flat, pigmented spot within the outer layer of the retina)” as one of the possible manifestations of Gardner Syndrome. People affected by Gardner syndrome have a high risk of developing colorectal cancer at an early age.
Congenital hypertrophy of the retinal pigment epithelium, often abbreviated as CHRPE, is one of the things your doctor screens for during your dilated eye exam. Although they don’t affect your vision, multiple lesions of CHRPE in both eyes are “strongly associated with familial adenomatous polyposis coli.”
While most forms of CHRPE are benign, getting checked out by a gastroenterologist should be of utmost importance to catch any other health concerns. It is up to your eye doctor to evaluate the lesions based on the number of them, if they are present in one or both eyes, their shape and the regularity of the lesions’ borders. CHRPE associated with Gardner syndrome are usually present in both eyes, in multiple quadrants (or parts of the retina), they have a distinct, pisiform or peapod-like shape and have irregular borders.
Colon cancer is just one of the forms of cancer that may be detected through an eye exam. Scheduling annual eye exams is one of the ways you can be proactive with your health.