Cancer can also sometimes develop in the tissues surrounding your eyeball or spread to the eye from other parts of the body, such as the lungs or breasts.
This topic focuses on melanoma of the eye, one of the most common types of eye cancer. The Cancer Research UK website has more information about the other types of eye cancer.
This page covers:
SYMPTOMS OF EYE CANCER
Eye cancer doesn't always cause obvious symptoms and may only be picked up during a routine eye test. Symptoms of eye cancer can include:
- shadows, flashes of light, or wiggly lines in your vision
- blurred vision
- a dark patch in your eye that's getting bigger
- partial or total loss of vision
- bulging of one eye
- a lump on your eyelid or in your eye that's increasing in size
- pain in or around your eye, although this is rare
These symptoms can also be caused by more minor eye conditions, so they're not necessarily a sign of cancer. However, it's important to get the symptoms checked by a doctor as soon as possible.
RISK FACTORS OF EYE CANCER
Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is a risk factor. Different cancers have different risk factors. Having one or more risk factors of a disease does not mean that you will definitely get it.
We know of a few possible risk factors for eye cancer. We have included information about factors where there is enough evidence to say there is increased risk as well as factors that might affect risk.
People ‘s risk of developing eye cancer
- Age. People over age 50 are most likely to be diagnosed with primary intraocular melanoma. In fact, the average age of diagnosis is 55. It is rare in children and people over age 70.
- Race. Primary intraocular melanoma is more common in white people and less common in black people.
- Gender. Intraocular melanoma affects about equal numbers of men and women.
- Individual history. People with the following medical conditions have a higher risk of developing primary intraocular melanoma: 1). Ocular or oculodermal melanocytosis, which is a pigmentation of the eye or skin around the eye; it is also called nevus of Ota. 2). Nevi, or spots like moles in the eye. 3). Dysplastic nevus syndrome, which is a condition marked by multiple flat moles that are irregular in shape or color
- Family history. Intraocular melanoma can run in families, although it is rare. Usually, it is due to a mutation or change in a gene called BAP1, which is mostly linked with metastatic uveal eye cancer. This gene change is also seen in other cancer types, such as kidney cancer and mesothelioma.
Melanoma of the eye
The possible risk factors for eye melanoma include :
- Age and gender
Most people diagnosed with eye melanoma are over the age of 50. It is slightly more common in men than women.
Melanoma of the eye is more common in white than black people.
- Eye colour
People with blue, grey or green eyes are more likely to develop eye melanoma than people with brown eyes. People who have abnormal brown spots (pigmentation) on their uvea (called oculodermal melanocytosis) or iris (called iris naevus) are at an increased risk of developing eye melanoma too.
Some families tend to have large numbers of moles on their skin, or moles that are unusual (doctors call them atypical). The atypical moles tend to be an irregular shape or colour. They also have a tendency to become cancerous. People with moles like this have a higher than average risk of skin melanoma and eye melanoma.
- Inherited cancer syndromes
Doctors have identified a rare inherited condition called BAP1 cancer syndrome. Families with this have a change (mutation) in the BAP1 gene. People with this gene change have an increased risk of uveal melanoma, skin melanoma and some other cancers.
We know that over exposure to sunlight is a definite risk factor for melanoma of the skin. It has also possibly been linked to melanoma of the eye but there is only weak evidence for this.
- Exposure to UV radiation for some workers
Some studies have reported a slightly increased risk of melanoma of the eye in people working as welders. We don’t know whether this risk is due to UV radiation from the tools used for welding or other factors.
- Use of sunbeds
Exposure to artificial UV radiation, for example sunbeds, increases the risk of eye melanoma.
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Squamous cell eye cancer
The risk factors for squamous cell eye cancer include :
- Infection with HIV
People who have HIV are at a higher risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the conjunctiva of the eye. This is almost certainly because of the effect of the virus on their immune systems.
- Drugs that suppress the immune system
People who have an organ transplant need to take drugs to stop their immune systems rejecting the new organ. These drugs damp down the immune system generally. Because of this, these people are at an increased risk of some types of cancer, including squamous cell carcinoma of the eye.
- Human papilloma virus infection
Human papilloma virus (HPV) may cause squamous cell carcinoma of the eye in combination with other factors. The virus causes squamous cell cancers elsewhere in the body. Infection with HPV is very common and not everyone infected will get cancer. So there are probably other factors working with the HPV that explain why some people get it and others don’t.
Sun exposure has been linked to a higher risk of squamous cell carcinoma of the eye. This type of cancer is more common in areas of the world where the sun’s light is stronger than in the UK.