Orbital Tumors

Understanding the Anatomy

The orbit is the bony eye socket and all of its parts. It includes the bones, the lacrimal (tearing) system, muscles, nerves, lymphatics, blood vessels and even the eyelids (parts of which attach to the bones of the orbit). The eye sits within the orbit, but this article covers tumors of the orbit, not the eye itself.

The orbit is made up of seven bones as shown below. The brain sits just above and behind the orbit.


Some of the structures within the orbit include:

  • Lacrimal (tearing) structures: Tears are important because they keep the eyeball moist and lubricated to prevent it from drying out. Tears are produced in the lacrimal gland (in the outside upper corner of the orbit). Every time you blink, the tears coat the eyeball and drain into the lacrimal sac (the inner lower corner of the orbit). Then the tear duct (also called the nasolacrimal duct) empties those tears into your nose. Though rare, cancers can start in the lacrimal gland, lacrimal sac or even the nasolacrimal duct.


  • Extraocular muscles: There are six muscles that move the eyeball around. Each one is responsible for a slightly different direction of eyeball movement.

49_eyemuscles CROP

  • Eyelid: The eyelid is an interesting structure in that it is made up of skin (and associated organs), muscle, fibrous bands, a thin layer of conjunctiva and eyelashes. Because there are so many organs in the eyelid, a number of different cancers can start here.

50 eyelid cropped

  • Everything else: The orbit is also filled with fat, blood vessels, lymphatics and nerves. In addition, the bones are lined with periosteum (also called the periorbita), and it is this fibrous wall that encloses all of the fat and orbital components. Of course, the eye itself sits within the orbit. Because of the variety of tissues and cell types within the orbit, cancers such as sarcomas (soft tissue cancers) and lymphomas, as well as benign tumors such as neurofibromas and hemangiomas, can all be found in the orbit.



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