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Eye cancer

Around 750 cases of eye cancer (ocular cancer) are diagnosed in the UK each year.

There are a number of different types of cancer that affect the eyes, including:

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.

Symptoms of eye cancer

Eye cancer does not always cause obvious symptoms and may only be picked up during a routine eye test.

Symptoms of eye cancer can include:

These symptoms can also be caused by more minor eye conditions, so they're not necessarily a sign of cancer.

But it's important to get the symptoms checked by a doctor as soon as possible.

Melanoma of the eye

Melanoma is cancer that develops from pigment-producing cells called melanocytes.

Most melanomas develop in the skin, but it's also possible for them to occur in other parts of the body, including the eye.

Eye melanoma most commonly affects the eyeball. Doctors sometimes call it uveal or choroidal melanoma, depending on exactly which part of your eye is affected.

It can also affect the conjunctiva (the thin layer that covers the front of the eye) or the eyelid.

What causes eye melanoma?

Eye melanoma occurs when the pigment-producing cells in the eyes divide and multiply too rapidly. This produces a lump of tissue known as a tumour.

It's not clear exactly why this occurs, but the following factors may increase the risk of it happening:

The risk of developing eye melanoma also increases with age, with most cases being diagnosed in people in their 50s.

Read about the risk factors for other types of eye cancer on the Cancer Research UK website.

Diagnosing melanoma of the eye

If your GP or optician (optometrist) suspects you have a serious problem with your eyes, they'll refer you to a specialist eye doctor called an ophthalmologist for an assessment.

If they suspect you have melanoma of the eye, they'll refer you to a specialist centre for eye cancer.

There are 4 centres in the UK, located in London, Sheffield, Liverpool and Glasgow.

It's likely you'll have a number of different tests at the centre, including:

Occasionally, a thin needle may be used to remove a small sample of cells from the tumour (biopsy)

The genetic information in these cells is analysed to give an indication of the chances of the cancer spreading or coming back.

Treatments for eye melanoma

Treatment for melanoma of the eye depends on the size and location of the tumour.

Your care team will explain each treatment option in detail, including the benefits and any potential complications.

Treatment will aim to conserve the affected eye whenever possible.

The main treatments for eye melanoma are:

Chemotherapy is rarely used for eye melanoma, but may be suitable for other types of eye cancer.

The Cancer Research UK website has more information about the treatment options for eye cancer and the types of eye cancer surgery.

Outlook for eye melanoma

The outlook for melanoma of the eye depends on how big the cancer is at the time it's diagnosed and exactly which parts of the eye are affected.

Overall:

The Cancer Research UK website has more information about the stages of eye cancer and statistics and outlook for eye cancer.