What Is Eye Cancer?

Primary eye cancer, which is cancer that starts in the eye, is rare. It can start inside the eyeball, on the surface of the eyeball or in the skin cells of the eyelid. Cancer that starts in the eyeball is called intraocular cancer.

Other types of eye cancer include:

  • Intraocular melanoma (uveal melanoma): This is the most common type of eye cancer. It usually develops in the choroid (a layer of blood vessels in the eye) or in the ciliary body (an area of the eye that makes fluid that fills the eyeball and controls the shape of the eye’s lens for focusing).
  • Intraocular lymphoma: This is usually a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma that starts in the eyeball.
  • Eyelid tumors: Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of eyelid tumor. It can be removed with surgery. Other types of eyelid tumors include squamous cell carcinoma, sebaceous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma.
  • Conjunctival tumors: The conjunctiva is a membrane that lines the eyelid and eyeball. Conjunctival tumors grow on the surface of the eye and include squamous cell carcinomas, malignant melanomas and lymphomas.
  • Choroid tumors: Tumors can grow in the choroid, the layer of blood vessels supporting the retina. Tumor types include melanoma (a malignant tumor), choroidal nevus (a benign tumor) and choroidal osteoma (a benign tumor).
  • Lacrimal gland tumors: These tumors grow in the glands that produce tears.
  • Retinoblastoma: This is the most common primary eye tumor in children. It is very rare in adults.
  • Metastasis to the eye: This occurs when cancer spreads (metastasizes) to the eye. Breast and lung cancer are the most common types of cancer that metastasizes to the eye.

Eye cancer is rare and requires specialized care. Ophthalmic oncologists are physicians are specially trained in treating eye cancer. At Northwestern Medicine, they use the latest technologies to provide advanced care for eye cancer.

Learn more about our approach to care and meet our team.