Do We Know What Causes Eye Cancer?

In generic terminology, eye cancer can be described as a tumour that can appear in the various parts of the eye(s). It happens when some healthy cells around the eye begin to change and start growing uncontrollably, thereby ending up forming a tumour. Tumours can be classified as benign or cancerous. Benign tumours are such that can grow but will not spread across to the other parts of the body. Cancerous tumours are malignant, implying that they can develop and spread across to other parts of the body. The type of cancer that develops in the eyes or eyeball is called intraocular cancer. The type of cancer that develops in the cells colour to the skin, hair, and eyes is called Ocular Melanoma. This type is the more common form of eye cancer, but still very rare.

Types of Eye Cancer

One of the most common types of intraocular cancer in adults is Melanoma. It occurs when the cells named melanocytes start growing uncontrollably. Intraocular melanoma is also known as Uveal Melanoma. Some other less common kinds of intraocular tumour include Intraocular Lymphoma, Retinoblastoma, and Hemangioma. Intraocular Lymphoma is the tumour that begins in the eyeball. It is rare and can be a bit difficult to diagnose. Retinoblastoma is a rare type of child-hood eye cancer. Hemangioma is the type of a benign tumour of the choroid and retina that develops in the blood vessels around the eyes. A few rare types of eye cancer are Conjunctival melanoma, Eyelid carcinoma, and Lacrimal gland tumour.

Where does Eye Cancer Occur?

Eye cancer is most likely to develop in the cells of the middle layer of the eyes (known as the uvea). The uvea has three parts and each can be affected by eye cancer (melanoma):

  • The Iris,the coloured part in the front of the eye
  • Choroid Layer,the layer of connective tissues and blood vessels between the sclera and the retina at the back of the uvea
  • Ciliary Body, the front of the uvea which secretes liquid into the eyes

Eye cancer can also develop on the outermost layer of the eyes, in the socket that surrounds the eyeballs, and on the eyelids.

Possible Causes & Risk Factors

Risk factors are anything that increases the chances of a person developing cancer. Although these risk factors usually contribute towards the occurrence of cancer, most of them do not really cause the development of cancer directly. There may be cases where people are exposed to several risk factors, but they might never develop any cancer, while for some who are not exposed to any of the known risk factors still end up developing cancer. This is because there are no specific reasons and causes of cancers that can defined as exclusive factors. Hence, knowing what kinds of risk factors can cause what kinds of cancer, and consulting about them with the doctor may help you make informed choices and have a healthier lifestyle.

Here are some of the factors can heighten a person’s risk of having eye cancer:

  • The Age Factor: Individuals aged above 50 years are the most prone and likely to be diagnosed with primary intraocular melanoma. As a matter of fact, the average age of diagnosis for eye cancer is 55 years. It is extremely rare in children and in people over the age of 70 years.
  • Skin Colour: Many research reports have suggested that primary intraocular melanoma is more likely to occur in people with white skin and less likely to occur in people with black or darker skin.
  • Medical History: individuals with the following medical conditions tend to have a higher risk of developing eye cancer:
    • Ocular or Oculodermal Melanocytosis – A pigmentation of the skin around the eye. It is also known as nevus of Ota
    • Nevi – Spots like moles developing in the eyes
    • Dysplastic Nevus Syndrome – A condition marked by multiple moles which are flat and are irregular in shape or colour
    • Family’s Medical History– Intraocular melanoma can run in families, however it is quite a rare phenomenon. Typically, it happens due to a cell mutation or a change in the gene known as BAP1, linked with metastatic uveal eye cancer. The changes in genes are also seen in some other cancer types, which are mesothelioma and kidney cancer.
    • Other Factors –Some medical research studies suggest that exposure to certain chemicals can also be a factor of risk for intraocular melanoma. However, sufficient data has not been gathered which may be deemed as conclusive about this association.
  • Exposure to Direct Sunlight/ UV Rays: The role of exposure to ultraviolet rays in the formation of eye cancer is suggestive but still unclear. There are some studies that provide evidence of the phenomenon that exposure to UV light, such as direct light from the sun or other sources such as tanning beds, may tend to increase the risk of eye cancer.

People which are exposed to a combination of these risk factors should consult a doctor and get their diagnosis done immediately. Any individual, who finds some unusual moles or any form of skin growth around the eyes, should see a dermatologist, or a doctor which specializes in skin diseases. This becomes especially more important if the individual has a family history of melanoma.


The exact causes of eye cancer are still not quite known to the world of medical science and hence, much work is being carried out in this field. However, there have been some symptoms that have been indentified to be related to eye cancer. Some of these symptoms are feeling of viewing shadows, wiggly lines, or flashes of light in the vision; blurry vision; dark patches in the eye(s) that maybe getting bigger; partial loss of vision; inflammation or bulging of the eye; development of a lump on the eyelid or the eye that may be increasing in size; and repeated sensation of pain in or around the eyes.