Eye Melanoma: Risk Factors

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

ON THIS PAGE: You will find out more about the factors that increase the chance of developing eye melanoma. Use the menu to see other pages.

A risk factor is anything that increases a person’s chance of developing cancer. Although risk factors often influence the development of cancer, most do not directly cause cancer. Some people with several risk factors never develop cancer, while others with no known risk factors do. Knowing your risk factors and talking about them with your doctor may help you make more informed lifestyle and health care choices.

The following factors may raise a person’s risk of developing eye melanoma:

  • Age. The risk of eye melanoma increases as people get older. The disease is rare in children.

  • Race. Eye melanoma is more common in White people than in Black, Hispanic, or Asian American people.

  • Gender. Some studies show that eye melanoma affects men slightly more than women.

  • Eye and skin color. People with light eyes, such as blue or green, are more likely to be diagnosed with uveal melanoma than people with darker eyes. Fair skin color is also a risk factor for uveal melanoma.

  • Individual history. People with certain medical conditions have a higher risk of developing eye melanoma. People with the following medical conditions have a higher risk of developing uveal melanoma:

    • Ocular or oculodermal melanocytosis. This pigmentation of the eye or skin around the eye increases the risk of uveal melanoma. Doctors also call it nevus of Ota.

    • Nevi. These mole-like spots in the eye have been associated with a higher risk of uveal melanoma. In addition, up to 26% of conjunctival melanoma is thought to arise from a nevus.

    • Dysplastic nevus syndrome. This condition, which is associated with uveal cancer, is marked by multiple flat moles on the skin that are not the same shape or color. Dysplastic nevus syndrome also increases the risk of melanoma of the skin.

    Meanwhile, people with the following medical condition have a higher risk of developing conjunctival melanoma:

    • Primary acquired melanosis (PAM). These flat, brown spots on the eye can increase the risk for conjunctival melanoma. Some studies show that approximately 57% to 76% of cases are associated with PAM.

  • Family history. Uveal melanoma can run in families, although it is rare. Usually, a family history is due to a mutation in a gene called BAP1. A mutation is a change in the gene. The BAP1 mutation is strongly linked with metastatic uveal melanoma. This mutation is also seen in other types of cancer, such as kidney cancer and mesothelioma.

  • Other factors. Some studies suggest that too much sunlight may be a risk factor for uveal melanoma and conjunctival melanoma. Other studies suggest that working as a welder may increase the risk for choroidal and ciliary body melanomas. However, the data are not conclusive about either of these associations.

People with a combination of these risk factors may benefit from seeing an ophthalmologist for a yearly examination. They should also consider protecting their eyes from ultraviolet (UV) radiation with sunglasses. Anyone who finds unusual moles or other skin growths around the eye or elsewhere on the body should see a dermatologist. This is a doctor who specializes in skin diseases. This is especially important if there is a family history of melanoma.

The next section in this guide is Symptoms and Signs. It explains what changes or medical problems eye melanoma cancer can cause. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.