Risk Factors for Ocular Melanoma

Ocular melanoma is a type of cancer that develops in the pigment-producing cells in the eye. It is the most common eye cancer in adults. Although the number of people the disease affects is very small – only 2,000 to 2,500 Americans are diagnosed annually – the consequences of the disease can be devastating and potentially lethal.

To protect yourself against such a serious disease, it’s important to understand how it develops and how to catch it. What are the factors that make a person more likely to develop ocular melanoma? The San Diego ocular melanoma treatment team at California Retina Associates are excellent people to ask about the risk factors and more.

Different types of cancer have different risk factors. Although it is not entirely sure what definitely causes ocular melanoma, experts have identified some factors that could increase the incidence of the cancer. The risk factors for ocular melanoma include the following:

Light Skin with Blue or Green Eyes

The incidence of ocular melanoma is highest in individuals that are of Caucasian descent and have light-colored skin and blue or green eyes.  The cancer is less common in individuals of African or Asian descent or individuals with brown eyes.

Men of Increasing Age

Ocular melanoma is more common in men than women, and the risk increases with age.

Extensive Exposure to UV Light

Although there isn’t any conclusive evidence to prove it, experts believe another risk factor for ocular melanoma is extensive exposure to ultraviolet light, like light from the sun or light from a tanning bed. People that are prone to sunburns have a higher risk of developing ocular melanoma than those that don’t burn easily.

Hereditary Skin Disorders

Some inherited skin disorders may increase the risk of developing ocular melanoma. One such disorder is atypical mole syndrome, also known as dysplastic nevus syndrome, in which a person may have more than 100 abnormal moles of varying sizes and shapes on their body.

Abnormal Skin Pigmentation of the Eyelids

Our San Diego ocular melanoma treatment team believes that having abnormal skin pigmentation involving the eyelids or increased pigmentation of the uvea – the middle layer of the eye between the sclera and retina – can raise the risk of ocular melanoma. A choroidal nevus, or a pigmented lesion kind of like an eye “freckle,” has the slight potential to turn into melanoma, especially if it has a certain thickness.

Reducing Your Risk of Ocular Melanoma

As you can see, some of these risk factors are within your control and others aren’t. You can’t change your family history, race, skin color or an inherited skin disorder. But you can make smart lifestyle choices, such as wearing sunglasses with UV protection and a wide-brimmed hat when you go outdoors, and avoiding tanning beds.

Many cases of ocular melanoma are asymptomatic, and do not cause noticeable changes in vision. Other cases of ocular melanoma can cause symptoms like a change in the pupil shape, blurred or distorted vision or blind spots. Should you notice any changes in your vision, it’s best to be seen by a trusted ophthalmologist.

If you have been diagnosed with ocular melanoma and want to discuss treatment options, or you simply have more questions about the disease, California Retina Associates is here to help. Please call or email one of our three convenient locations serving San Diego County and beyond.