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Risk Factors for Eye Cancer

A risk factor is anything that increases 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.


The risk of eye melanoma is much higher in White people than in African Americans, Hispanics, or Asian Americans.

Eye color

People with light colored eyes are somewhat more likely to develop uveal melanoma of the eye than are people with darker eye and skin color.

Age and sex

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 uveal eye melanoma.

BAP1 cancer syndrome is a rare inherited condition in which family members are at increased risk for uveal eye melanoma, as well as melanoma of the skin, malignant mesothelioma, kidney cancer and others. This condition is caused by an inherited mutation (change) in the BAP1 gene and tends to form aggressive cancers that appear at younger ages. 


Different types of moles (nevi) in the eye or on the skin have been associated with an increased risk of uveal eye melanoma. In the eye, these include choroidal, giant choroidal, and iris nevi; on the skin, atypical nevi, common nevi of the skin, and freckles. An eye condition, known as primary acquired melanosis (PAM), where the melanocytes in the eye grow too much, is a risk factor for conjunctival melanoma. 

Family history

Uveal eye melanomas can run in some families, but this is very rare and the genetic reasons for this are still being investigated.

Unproven risk factors

Sun exposure: Too much exposure to sunlight (or sunlamps), a known risk factor for melanoma of the skin, has also been proposed as a possible risk factor for uveal or conjunctival melanoma of the eye, but studies so far have shown mixed results. More research is needed to answer this question.

Certain occupations: Some studies have suggested that welders may have a higher risk of uveal eye melanoma (of the choroid and ciliary body), but more studies are being done.

Skin melanoma: Some patients with uveal eye melanoma have a history of melanoma of the skin , but it is still not known if having skin melanoma increases your risk of eye melanoma.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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Masoomian B, Shields JA, Shields CL. Overview of BAP1 cancer predisposition syndrome and the relationship to uveal melanoma. Journal of Current Ophthalmology. 2018;30(2):102-109. doi:10.1016/j.joco.2018.02.005.

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Last Revised: November 30, 2018

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