Causes and Diagnoses

Causes and Diagnoses of Eye Cancer

The exact causes of eye cancer are unknown, but existing conditions or risk factors may contribute to the development of cancer.

Risk factors for eye cancer include:

  • Age: Intraocular melanoma most often affects people ages 50 and older. The average age of diagnosis is 55. The disease is rare in children and people over the age of 70.
  • Race: Primary intraocular melanoma affects more white people than Black people.
  • Gender: Intraocular melanoma affects men slightly more than women.
  • Personal history: Certain medical conditions may increase the risk of developing primary intraocular melanoma, including:
    • Ocular or oculodermal melanocytosis: Pigmentation of the eye or skin around the eye.
    • Nevi: Spots or moles in the eye.
    • Dysplastic nevus syndrome: Cause multiple flat moles in the eye that are irregular in shape or color.
  • Family history: Intraocular melanoma can run in families, although it is rare. When it does run in families, it is usually due to a mutation or change in a gene called BAP1.


Intraocular melanoma is often detected during a routine eye exam. Other types of eye cancer may be diagnosed after symptoms appear. The procedures that may be used to diagnose eye cancer include:

  • Ultrasound: An imaging procedure that uses sound waves to create a picture of your eye.
  • Fluorescein or indocyanine green angiography: A fluorescent dye is injected into your bloodstream, allowing your care team to see the blood vessels when they take a picture.
  • Fine needle biopsy: This procedure removes cells from your eye with a needle so they can be examined under a microscope. This can be used to help make a diagnosis as well as analyze the mutation that is causing the tumor.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: An imaging procedure that uses X-rays to make detailed cross-sectional images that help determine if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan: An imaging procedure that uses magnetic fields instead of X-rays to make detailed images. MRI is often used to determine the tumor’s growth and spread and is useful for looking at eye tumors.