Eye Cancer (Melanoma and Lymphoma)

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Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention TOPICS

What are the risk factors for eye cancer?

A risk factor is anything that affects your chance of getting a disease such as cancer. Different cancers have different risk factors. Some risk factors, like smoking, can be changed. Others, like a person’s age or family history, can’t be changed.

But having a known risk factor, or even several risk factors, does not mean that you will get the disease. And many people who get the disease may have few or no known risk factors.

Risk factors for eye melanoma

Race/ethnicity

The risk of intraocular melanoma is much higher in whites than in African Americans or Asian Americans.

Eye color

People with light colored eyes are somewhat more likely to develop melanoma of the eye than are people with brown eyes.

Age and gender

Eye melanomas can occur at any age, but the risk goes up as people get older. Eye melanoma is slightly more common in men than in women.

Certain inherited conditions

People with dysplastic nevus syndrome, who have many abnormal moles on the skin, are at increased risk of skin melanoma. They also seem to have a higher risk of developing melanoma of the eye.

People with abnormal brown spots on the uvea (known as oculodermal melanocytosis or nevus of Ota) also have an increased risk of developing eye melanoma.

BAP1 cancer syndrome is a rare inherited condition in which family members are at increased risk for eye melanoma, as well as some other cancers such as melanoma of the skin and mesothelioma. This condition is caused by an inherited mutation (change) in the BAP1 gene.

Eye melanomas can run in some families who do not have these conditions, but this is very rare.

Unproven risk factors

Sun exposure: Too much exposure to sunlight (or sunlamps) has been proposed as a possible risk factor for melanoma of the eye, but this has not been proven.

Certain occupations: Some studies have suggested that welders, farmers, fishermen, chemical workers, and laundry workers may have a higher risk of eye melanoma, but none of these links has been proven conclusively.

Risk factors for eye lymphoma

The only known risk factor for primary lymphoma of the eye is having a weakened immune system. Examples include people with the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and people who take anti-rejection drugs after organ or tissue transplants.


Last Medical Review: 09/13/2013
Last Revised: 02/11/2014