Eye Melanoma: Latest Research

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 01/2023

ON THIS PAGE: You will read about the scientific research being done to learn more about eye melanoma and how to treat it. Use the menu to see other pages.

Doctors are working to learn more about eye melanoma, ways to prevent it, how to best treat it, and how to provide the best care to people diagnosed with this disease. The following areas of research may include new options for patients through clinical trials. Always talk with your doctor about the best diagnostic and treatment options for you.

  • Targeted therapy. Researchers are studying the genes, proteins, and other factors that may be involved in the development of eye melanoma. Targeted therapy is a treatment that targets the cancer’s specific genes, proteins, or the tissue environment that contributes to cancer growth and survival. Recent studies show that not all tumors have the same genes or proteins. Many research studies are taking place now to find out more about specific molecular features and develop new adjuvant and metastatic treatments for uveal and conjunctival melanoma.

    About 80% of uveal melanomas are associated with GNAQ or GNA11 gene mutations. A mutation is a change in the gene. MEK inhibitors are a type of targeted therapy being researched as a treatment for tumors with these mutations. Researchers also continue to study targeted therapies for gene mutations associated with conjunctival melanoma, including a mutation in the BRAF gene. This mutation appears in 30% to 50% all primary and metastatic conjunctival tumors.

    Learn more about the basics of targeted treatment.

  • Immunotherapy. Researchers are studying immunotherapy drugs alone, in combination with each other, and in combination with other drugs or therapies to find ways to prevent or treat uveal melanoma metastasis.

    Monoclonal antibodies, which specifically target and destroy cancer cells, are a type of immunotherapy being tested in clinical trials. For example, a combination of ipilimumab (Yervoy) and nivolumab (Opdivo) is being studied as an adjuvant therapy to prevent metastasis after the first treatment for uveal melanoma. Learn more about the basics of immunotherapy.

  • Chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to destroy cancer cells. It usually works by keeping the cancer cells from growing, dividing, and making more cells. Systemic chemotherapy gets into the bloodstream to reach cancer cells throughout the body. For people with metastatic uveal melanoma, adjuvant chemotherapy treatment is being tested in clinical trials. Topical chemotherapy drugs, such as 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), bortezomib (Velcade), sorafenib (Nexavar), and others, are being studied as adjuvant therapy for conjunctival melanoma. Learn more about the basics of chemotherapy.

  • Improved radiation therapy. Many hospitals and cancer centers offer methods that focus radiation therapy to the tumor to help reduce damage to the rest of the eye. Researchers continue to investigate ways to make radiation therapy more effective for eye melanoma and to reduce side effects from the treatment. Some studies are looking at how radiation therapy works in combination with immunotherapy or other drugs.

  • Advances in surgery. Researchers are looking to see if sentinel lymph node biopsy can find microscopic lymph node disease in people with conjunctival melanoma before it becomes obvious. With this surgical technique, researchers could potentially identify metastatic disease that would otherwise go unnoticed until it is advanced.

  • Treating liver metastases. Because eye melanoma commonly metastasizes to the liver, many people need treatment to the liver. For instance, a clinical trial for metastatic eye melanoma is testing a technique called percutaneous hepatic perfusion (PHP) with the chemotherapy drug melphalan (Alkeran). This technique sends high doses of the chemotherapy directly into the liver.

  • Palliative care/supportive care. Clinical trials are underway to find better ways of reducing symptoms and side effects of current eye melanoma treatments to improve comfort and quality of life for patients.

Looking for More About the Latest Research?

If you would like more information about the latest areas of research in eye melanoma, explore these related items that take you outside of this guide:

The next section in this guide is Coping with Treatment. It offers some guidance on how to cope with the physical, emotional, social, and financial changes that cancer and its treatment can bring. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.