Eye surgery

Ocular Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Much of what you know about SCC  (squamous cell carcinoma) in other species translates to cattle and horses, particularly in terms of risk factors and metastatic activity.  SCC affects older, light skinned (white faced) animals exposed to UV radiation. Papilloma virus may start a lesion, particularly when combined with UV irradiation. SCC is locally invasive but very slow to metastasize. Local lymph nodes may be enlarged due to tumor spread or, more likely, related to local inflammation.

Common locations

  • Limbus (corneal-scleral junction)
  • Third eyelid
  • Upper and lower eyelid margins
Bovine ocular SCC
Equine SCC often starts in the lower lid or the third eyelid.

Male horses (stallions and geldings) with ocular SCC should be checked for penile SCC, as well. While UV light isn’t directly an issue, there is definitely a correlation.

White faced cattle with a dark ring around their eye are less likely to get SCC than those with a white ring based on research by KM Davis et al.

notice the pink rim on the upper lid of the cow on the left and the black rim on the cow on the right

Treatment options

  • hyperthermia, photodynamic or radiation therapy
    • only some referral institutions will have this capability
  • mass removal – blade or laser
    • Lasers are typically only found in referral institutions
    • Surgical removal (cutting it out) can be very tricky to do effectively and leave functional eyelids that can close. A specialist is often indicated as the eyelids scar very easily and this deforms the lid margin.
  • cryotherapy
    • Cryotherapy can also lead to scarring and deformed lid margins; this should also be used by specialists for both corneal and lid lesions
  • enucleation
    • This is the primary field option

Slaughter impacts

Cattle with cancer eye or with enucleations will be carefully inspected at slaughter. Generally the head will be condemned. The carcass is less likely to be condemned with a healed enucleation site.

Key Takeaways

  • White animals are prone to SCC
  • SCC tends to start on the lids or the limbus and is locally invasive but slow to metastasize
  • Eye removal doesn’t usually affect slaughter options unless the lymph nodes are enlarged; a nasty eye creates more issues


Bovine ocular SCC in Italy– VETERINARSKI ARHIV 84 (5), 449-457, 2014- same pathogenesis applies in the US

Bovine Ocular SCC – VCNA,2010- skim the headings to see which parts might help you answer questions

slaughter info-compilation of notes

Bovine welfare issues – eye disorders, 2010 VCNA




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Large Animal Surgery - Supplemental Notes Copyright © by Erin Malone, DVM, PhD is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.