Eye Cancer

Although eye cancer is uncommon, many types of cancer can occur in and around the eye. Cancers that affect the eyeball are called intraocular cancers. Cancers that affect the tissues behind the eyeball are known as orbital cancers. Cancers that develop in the eyelids and tear glands are referred to as adnexal cancers. Melanoma is the most common primary intraocular cancer in adults, followed by primary intraocular lymphoma. In children, retinoblastoma is the most common primary intraocular cancer. Most primary eye cancers occur in people over age 50.

Risk Factors

People with light colored eyes, particularly those with blue eyes, are at higher risk for primary intraocular melanoma. Other risk factors are having an inherited condition known as dysplastic nevus syndrome, which causes abnormal moles on the skin, or having abnormal brown spots on the uvea (the middle layer of the eyeball). Some people suspect a link between sun exposure and intraocular melanoma risk, but that link is unproven. Having a weakened immune system is the only known risk factor for primary intraocular lymphoma.

Risk factors for skin cancer on the eyelids include excessive sun exposure, fair skin and the history of prior skin cancers elsewhere on the body.


Symptoms of eye cancer can include: blurry vision or loss of vision, floaters (drifting spots), a growing dark spot on the iris, a change in the size or shape of the pupil, a change in the eyeball's position or a bulging of the eye. These symptoms can also be caused by less serious conditions, but should be checked out.

Symptoms of eyelid cancer include new lumps or bumps on the eyelid. Additionally, patients should be aware of new pigmented eyelid lesions or a change in an existing eyelid lesion. If these symptoms arise, an evaluation with an oculoplastic (eyelid) specialist is recommended.

Prevention and Treatment

The use of sunscreen and protecting the eyes from UV exposure is recommended. Annual eye exams can help detect eye and periocular cancers.

Surgery is used to treat some intraocular melanomas, although radiation has now become a more common option. Laser therapy can also be used. Chemotherapy is used to treat intraocular lymphoma. Surgery is used to treat eyelid cancers.



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