Melanoma is a type of cancer that develops in cells that produce melanin. It is the pigment that gives your skin its color. Your eyes also have melanin-producing cells and can develop melanoma. Eye melanoma is also called ocular melanoma.
Most ocular melanomas form in the part of the eye that you cannot see when looking at yourself in the mirror. This makes ocular melanoma difficult to detect. Also, ocular melanoma usually does not cause early signs or symptoms.
There is a treatment for melanomas of the eye. Treatment for some small eye melanomas may not interfere with your vision. However, treatment of large ocular melanomas usually results in some loss of vision.
Eye cancer symptoms
Ocular melanoma cannot cause signs and symptoms. When they occur, the signs and symptoms of melanoma of the eye can include:
– A sensation of flashes or specks of dust in the vision (floaters)
– growing dark spot on the iris
– A change in the shape of the black circle (pupil) in the center of the eye
– Weak or blurred vision in one eye
– Loss of peripheral vision
When to consult a doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you. Sudden changes in your vision signal an emergency, so seek immediate care in these situations.
Causes of eye cancer
The cause of ocular melanoma is unclear. Doctors know that melanoma of the eye occurs when errors develop in the DNA of healthy cells in the eye. These DNA errors cause cells to grow and multiply out of control. So the mutated cells continue to live when they should normally die. The mutated cells accumulate in the eye and form ocular melanoma.
Where does eye melanoma occur
Eye melanoma most often develops in the cells of the middle layer of the eye (uvea). The uvea consists of three parts and each can be affected by melanoma of the eye:
– The iris, which is the colored part at the front of the eye
– The choroid layer, which is the layer of blood vessels and connective tissue between the sclera and the retina at the back of the uvea
– The ciliary body, which is located in front of the uvea and which secretes the transparent liquid (aqueous humor) into the eye.
– Eye melanoma can also occur in the outermost layer of the front of the eye (conjunctiva), in the socket around the eyeball and on the eyelid. Although these types of eye melanoma are very rare.
Risk factors for developing eye cancer
Risk factors for primary melanoma of the eye include
Light eye color
People with blue or green eyes have a higher risk of eye melanoma.
To be white
White people have a higher risk of eye melanoma than people of other colors
The risk of eye melanoma increases with age.
Certain inherited skin diseases
A condition called dysplastic nevus syndrome, which causes abnormal moles, can increase the risk of developing melanoma on the skin and in the eye.
In addition, people with abnormal pigmentation of the skin in the eyelids and adjacent tissues and increased pigmentation of the uvea, known as ocular melanocytosis, also have an increased risk of developing melanoma of the eye. .
Exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) Rays
The role of ultraviolet exposure in ocular melanoma is unclear. There is some evidence that UV exposure, such as sunlight or tanning beds, may increase the risk of ocular melanoma.
Certain genetic mutations
Certain genes passed down from parents to children can increase the risk of eye melanoma.
Complications of eye cancer
Complications of ocular melanoma can include:
Increased pressure inside the eye (glaucoma).
Growing ocular melanoma can cause glaucoma. Signs and symptoms of glaucoma can include eye pain and redness, as well as blurred vision.
Large ocular melanomas often cause vision loss in the affected eye and can cause complications, such as retinal detachment, which also cause vision loss.
Small eye melanomas can cause some vision loss if they occur in critical parts of the eye. You may have difficulty seeing in the center or to the side of your vision. Very advanced ocular melanomas can lead to complete loss of vision.
Ocular melanoma that spreads beyond the eye. Ocular melanoma can spread outside the eye and into distant areas of the body, including the liver, lungs, and bones.
Uveal melanoma. Fort Washington, Pa.: National Comprehensive Cancer Network. .
Bowling B. Ocular tumors. In: Kanski’s Clinical Ophthalmology: A Systematic Approach. 8th ed. Edinburgh, UK: Elsevier, Ltd.; 2016.
Harbor JW, et al. Initial management of uveal and conjunctival melanomas. Accessed July 8, 2018.
Intraocular (uveal) melanoma symptoms, tests, prognosis, and stages (PDQ). National Cancer Institute.