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 age 50 and older. The average age of diagnosis is 55. The disease is rare in children and people over age 70.
  • Race: Primary intraocular melanoma affects more Caucasians than African-Americans.
  • Gender: Intraocular melanoma affects men slightly more than women.
  • Personal history: Certain medical conditions may increase risk of developing primary intraocular melanoma, including:
    •  Ocular or oculodermal melanocytosis: This is a pigmentation of the eye or skin around the eye
    •  Nevi: Nevi are spots or moles in the eye.
    •  Dysplastic nevus syndrome: This condition produces multiple flat moles that are irregular in shape or color.
  • Family history: Intraocular melanoma can run in families, although it is rare. Usually, it is due to a mutation or change in a gene called BAP1, which is mostly linked with metastatic uveal eye cancer.


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

  • Ultrasound: Ultrasound imaging procedures use sound waves to create a picture of your eye.
  • Fluorescein angiography: This procedure takes a picture of the blood vessels in your eye after a fluorescent dye is injected into your bloodstream. Fluorescein angiography can be used to rule out eye conditions other than cancer.
  • Fine needle biopsy: This procedure removes tumor cells from the eye with a needle to allow the physician to examine the cells under a microscope.
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan: A CT scan is an X-ray imaging procedure produces detailed cross-sectional images that help determine if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan: MRI uses magnetic fields instead of X-rays to develop detailed images. MRI is often used to determine the tumor’s growth and spread and is particularly useful for looking at eye tumors.