An Introductory Overview of Orbital Tumors

, , , And , Departments of Neurosurgery and Ophthalmology, and Division of Neuropathology, University of Virginia Health Sciences Center, Charlottesville, Virginia

Neurosurg Focus. 2001;10(5) 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


The term "orbital tumors" comprises a wide variety of lesions that often share the same cardinal clinical finding (exophthalmos) and clinical history. Age at presentation, associated ophthalmological findings, and radiological features, however, provide invaluable information as to the possible histological type of tumor. The present article serves as an introductory overview regarding the pathological characteristics, clinical features, radiological characteristics, and principles of treatment of orbital tumors.


Orbital tumors constitute a heterogeneous array of lesions ( Table 1 ) and, as such, pose numerous challenges in terms of diagnosis, imaging and management.[2,5] Given the variety of structures within the relatively confined orbit, a systematic approach is necessary to understand the classification and clinical features of orbital tumors. Schematically, orbital tumors can be classified based on origin: 1) primary lesions, which originate from the orbit itself; 2) secondary lesions, which extend to the orbit from neighboring structures and include such lesions as intracranial tumors and tumors of the paranasal sinuses that, by contiguity, extend to involve the orbit; and 3) metastatic tumors. Orbital tumors are also divided anatomically into intraconal and extraconal depending on their relationship with the muscle cone. The muscle cone is formed by the extraocular rectus muscles and their intermuscular septae, which separate the intraconal from the extraconal space. The muscle cone has a conical shape with the globe serving as the base and the optic canal as its apex.

In the present article, we provide a general overview of the pathological characteristics, clinical features, and imaging characteristics of primary orbital tumors. Metastatic lesions are also briefly reviewed.