Illustration shows where the melanoma of the eye occurs
Position of the eye melanoma Open the popup dialog
Melanoma is a type of cancer that grows in cells that make melanin – the pigment that gives your skin its color. Your eyes also have melanin-producing cells and can develop melanoma. The eye melanoma is also known as 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 it difficult to identify melanoma of the eye. In addition, eye melanoma does not usually cause any early signs or symptoms.
Treatment for ocular melanoma is available. Treatment of some small eye melanomas may not affect your eyesight. However, treatment for large ocular melanoma usually results in loss of vision.
The melanoma of the eye may not cause any signs and symptoms. When they do occur, the signs and symptoms of ocular melanoma can include:
- A feeling of lightning or dust spots in your sight (swimmer)
- A growing dark spot on the iris
- A change in the shape of the black circle (pupil) in the center of your eye
- Poor or blurred vision in one eye
- Loss of peripheral vision
It is not known what causes ocular melanoma.
Doctors know that ocular melanoma occurs when defects in the DNA of healthy eye cells develop. DNA defects tell cells to grow and multiply out of control, so the mutated cells continue to live when they would normally die. The mutated cells accumulate in the eye and form an ocular melanoma.
Where an eye melanoma occurs
Ocular melanoma most often develops in cells in the middle layer of the eye (uvea). The uvea consists of three parts and can each be affected by ocular melanoma:
The iris, which is the colored part at the front of the eye
The choroidal layer, which is the layer of blood vessels and connective tissue between the sclera and the retina on the back of the uvea
The ciliary body, which is located at the front of the uvea and secretes transparent fluid (watery humor) into the eye.
Risk factors for primary melanoma of the eye include:
- Clear eye color. People with blue or green eyes are at higher risk of developing ocular melanoma.
- Be white Whites are at higher risk for eye melanoma than people of other races.
- Age. The risk of ocular melanoma increases with age.
- Certain hereditary skin conditions. A condition called dysplastic nevus syndrome that causes abnormal moles can increase your risk of developing melanoma on your skin and in your eyes.
In addition, people with abnormal skin pigmentation of the eyelids and adjacent tissues and increased pigmentation of their uvea – known as ocular melanocytosis – are at increased risk of developing ocular melanoma.
Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. The role of UV exposure in ocular melanoma is not clear. There is some evidence that exposure to UV light such as sunlight or tanning beds can increase the risk of ocular melanoma.
Certain genetic mutations. Certain genes that are passed on from parents to children can increase the risk of ocular melanoma.