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  • Eye Cancer

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    Reviewed By Odalys Mendoza, MD
    Edited By David Turbert
    Published Jun. 25, 2024

    Cancer of the eye is a malignancy that starts and grows in your eye. A malignancy is a group of cancer cells. They are non-typical cells that grow quickly and uncontrolled. They can spread to other sites in the body or invade and destroy tissues.

    Ocular Melanoma

    The most common cancer that starts in the eye in adults is melanoma, also known as ocular melanoma. Melanoma is a cancer that starts in the cells that make the pigment that gives your skin, hair and eyes color. Just as you can get a melanoma on your skin, you can also get it in your eye. Though it is the most common cancer that starts in the eye in adults, it is rare.

    Ocular melanoma is also known as uveal melanoma because it most often starts in the part of the eyeball called the uvea. The uvea is a layer in the eye wall between the sclera and retina. Melanoma nearly always starts in the part of the uvea called the choroid. This is because choroid cells have the same kind of pigment as skin cells. While most uveal melanomas start in the choroid, a smaller number start in the iris, which is also a part of the uvea. Melanomas in the iris most often grow slowly and don’t spread to other parts of the body.

    Primary Intraocular Lymphoma

    Primary intraocular lymphoma (lymphoma of the eye) is a cancer that involves the body’s white blood cells (lymphocytes). Lymphomas can also start in organs such as the lungs, stomach, and rarely, the eyes. Lymphoma of the eye is a non-Hodgkin’s B cell lymphoma.
    Most people with lymphoma of the eye are elderly or have problems that weaken the immune system, such as AIDS. Lymphoma of the eye often happens with primary central nervous system lymphoma (PCNSL), which is lymphoma of the brain.


    Retinoblastoma affects young children. A genetic mutation causes retinoblastoma. It starts in the retina. Retina nerve cells start to grow and multiply. Then they usually spread in the eye and possibly other parts of the body.

    Photos can help find eye problems in children.

    Other Eye Cancers

    Other types of cancers can affect the eye. These include:

    • Ocular metastases, which spread from other organs, like the breasts or lungs, to the eye. They are found most commonly in the choroid, which has many blood vessels. Cancer cells travel through the bloodstream from a distant organ to the eye. It is the most common cancer found in the eye in adults.
    • Orbital cancers, which affect the tissues surrounding the eyeball (called the orbit). These tissues can include muscles that move the eyeball around and nerves attached to the eyeball.
    • Adnexal cancers, which affect accessory structures (called adnexal structures) around the eyeball. These include the eyelids and tear glands.

    Learn More About Certain Types of Eye Cancer: