Eye cancer: what are the signs and symptoms?

Presse Santé

Melanoma is a type of cancer that develops in melanin-producing cells. It is the pigment that gives your skin its color. Your eyes also have melanin-producing cells and may develop melanoma. Ocular melanoma is also called ocular melanoma.

Most eye melanomas form in a part of the eye that you do not see when looking in the mirror. This makes it difficult to detect ocular melanoma. Also, ocular melanoma usually does not cause early signs or symptoms.

There is a treatment for eye melanomas. Treatment of some small eye melanomas may not impair your vision. However, treatment of large ocular melanomas usually leads to some vision loss.

Symptoms of eye cancer

Eye melanoma cannot cause signs and symptoms. When they do occur, the signs and symptoms of eye melanoma may include:

– Feeling of flashes or spots of dust in vision (floating)
– growing dark spot on the iris
– 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 urgent situation, 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 in the DNA of healthy eye cells develop. These DNA defects cause cells to grow and multiply out of control. Thus, the mutated cells continue to live when they should normally die. The mutated cells accumulate in the eye and form ocular melanoma.

Where ocular melanoma occurs

Ocular melanoma most often occurs in the cells of the middle layer of the eye (uvea). Uvea consists of three parts and each can be affected by melanoma of the eye:

– Iris, which is the colored part in front of the eye
– The vascular layer, which is the layer of blood vessels and connective tissue between the sclera and the retina at the back of the uvea
– A ciliary body which is located in front of the mouth and which excretes a transparent fluid (aqueous humor) into the eye.
– Ocular melanoma can also occur in the outermost layer of the front of the eye (conjunctiva), in the hole around the eyeball and on the eyelid. Although these types of ocular melanoma are very rare.

Risk factors for the development of eye cancer

Risk factors for primary eye melanoma include

Light eye color

People with blue or green eyes have a higher risk of eye melanoma.

Be white

Whites have a higher risk of eye melanoma than people of other skin colors


The risk of ocular melanoma increases with age.
Some inherited skin diseases

A condition called dysplastic nevus syndrome, which causes abnormal signs, can increase the risk of melanoma on the skin and in the eye.

In addition, people with abnormal skin pigmentation of the eyelids and adjacent tissues and increased uveal pigmentation, 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 exposure to UV radiation, such as sunlight or tanning beds, may increase the risk of ocular melanoma.

Certain genetic mutations

Some genes passed from parents to children may increase the risk of developing eye melanoma.

Complications of eye cancer

Complications of ocular melanoma may include:

Increased pressure inside the eye (glaucoma).

Growing eye melanoma can cause glaucoma. Signs and symptoms of glaucoma may include eye pain and redness, as well as blurred vision.

Vision loss

Large ocular melanomas often cause vision loss in the affected eye and can cause complications such as retinal detachment, which also causes vision loss.

Small eye melanomas can cause some vision loss if they occur in critical parts of the eye. You may have difficulty seeing to the center or side. Very advanced ocular melanomas can lead to complete vision loss.

Eye melanoma that spreads outside the eye. Ocular melanoma can spread outside the eye and to distant areas of the body, including the liver, lungs, and bones.


Uveeal melanoma. Fort Washington, Pa .: National Comprehensive Cancer Network. .

Bowling B. Eye tumors. In: Kanski’s clinical ophthalmology: a systematic approach. 8th ed. Edinburgh, United Kingdom: Elsevier, Ltd .; 2016.

Harbor JW et al. Initial treatment of uveal and conjunctival melanomas. Accessed July 8, 2018.

Symptoms, tests, prognosis and stages of intraocular (uveal) melanoma (PDQ). National Cancer Institute.

* Presse Santé strives to impart health knowledge in a language accessible to all. IN NO EVENT can the information provided replace the advice of a healthcare professional.

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