Eye cancer: risk factors, prevention and symptoms

Here’s what you need to know about eye cancer risk factors, prevention and symptoms, from the American Cancer Society.

Eye cancer may not be something we hear about very often, but there will be over 3,300 new eye cancers diagnosed in 2019, according to the American Cancer Society. Primary eye cancers, those that begin in the eye, are less common than secondary eye cancers, or those that start in another part of the body and then spread to the eyes. Most cancers of the eye are melanomas.

Here’s what you need to know about eye cancer risk factors, prevention and symptoms. This information is from the American Cancer Society.

Eye cancer risk factors

We don’t know the exact cause of most eye cancers, but we do know that there are certain factors that increase the chances of getting eye cancer.

Risk factors for eye cancer include the following:


Eye melanoma is more common in whites than other races or ethnicities.

Eye color

People with light-colored eyes may be more likely to develop uveal melanoma of the eye than people with darker eye or skin color.

Age and gender

The risk for eye melanoma increases with age and is more common in men than in women.

Certain inherited conditions

The following conditions may carry a higher risk for developing eye cancer:

  • Dysplastic nevus syndrome — condition characterized by unusual moles on the skin
  • Abnormal brown spots on the uvea, which is the colored part of the eye
  • BAP1 cancer syndrome — condition caused by inherited mutation in the BAP1 gene

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People with different types of moles in the eye or on the skin may be at increased risk for melanoma. 

Family history

Some eye melanomas may run in families, but this is rarer.

Other risk factors that may cause a great risk for eye cancer but need more research to prove include too much exposure to sun or sunlamps, certain occupations and skin melanoma.

Preventing eye cancer

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), there are some things you can do to prevent melanoma of the skin, and this may help reduce the risk for eye melanoma as well. ACS recommends limiting exposure to intense sunlight, wearing protective clothing and hats in the sun, using sunscreen and wearing wraparound sunglasses with 99 percent to 100 percent UVA and UVB absorption to protect the eyes and the skin around the eyes. Although a link between sunlight and eye melanomas has not been proven, some doctors think sunglasses may reduce the risk of eye melanoma.

Eye cancer symptoms

There are no specific screenings for eye cancer, but yearly eye exams may be recommended for those who are at high risk. According to ACS, symptoms of eye cancer may include:

  • Blurry vision or sudden vision loss
  • Spots or squiggles in the field of vision, or flashes of light
  • Losing part of your line of vision
  • A growing dark spot on colored part of the eye
  • Change in size or shape of the pupil
  • Change in the position of the eyeball inside the eye socket
  • Bulging of the eye
  • Change in the way the eye moves

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please see your primary care doctor right away so the cause can be found and treated.

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