Yes, melanoma – known as the most serious type of skin cancer – can occur in your eyes! In fact, according to the Melanoma Research Foundation, ocular melanoma (also known as OM) is the second most common form of melanoma, with about 2,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the U.S. About half of OM cases are eventually fatal as the cancer spreads to other parts of the body.
And as with all melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancers, prevention starts with education. A terrific guideline: The greater your risk of developing skin cancer through exposure to UVA and UVB rays, the greater your risk of developing OM.
Why the Eye?
OM is similar to skin melanoma, but there are significant differences. Many people have heard of the natural pigment melanin, which gives our skin its particular color, and we might also know that melanoma develops from the cells which produce melanin. But these cells are not just in our skin. We carry them in our intestinal lining, and in our hair; they also give color to our eyes.
Who is at Risk?
Researchers at the Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center say that people most at risk for OM generally:
- Have fair skin, and tend to sunburn easily.
- Have light-colored eyes.
- Are of European descent, especially northern Europe.
- Have occupations such as welding, where proper eye protection is vital.
Also, age is a factor: people 50 and above have a much greater risk of developing OM.
What Can You Do?
It’s important to realize that anyone can develop ocular melanoma. Our eyes are constantly exposed to the sun whenever we are outside, whether we are active on the tennis court or running errands in the car. We should pay attention to eye care right along with skin protection. Here are some tips:
– Invest in a good pair of sunglasses. Look for a pair that blocks 99-100 percent UVB and UVA rays. The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN offers tips on selecting sunglasses.
– Wear a hat with at least a 3-inch brim (minimum recommendation of the American Academy of Dermatology).
– Start your children early on the path of UV protection. Get them into the habit of wearing sunglasses and hats.
Take it from melanoma survivor Timna: “EVERYONE needs to do everything they CAN do to protect their eyes”.
Check out our selection of sun protective sun hats and sunglasses. All Coolibar sun hats are UPF 50+, and all sunglasses carried by Coolibar block 100% UVA/UVB rays.
Whilst it may appear to those of us who are laypersons and sufferers of Ocular melanoma that the sun plays a large part in its occurrence in fact, there appears to be no correlation. If that were to be the case Australians could expect to be the most likely to suffer from OM. However, the statistics show absolutely no variation compared to the rest of the world. I-e- in the region of 6 persons/million of the population. I suffered a choroidal melanoma (the commonest form of OM) some years ago but have never been in any respect a ‘sun worshipper’ and I live in a relatively sun deprived part of the world, England
Yes, this is true – there is no proven link between sun exposure and OM. What we’re saying is that, whether sun-worshippers or not, those who are more susceptible to the effects of UV radiation – e.g. light-skinned, light-eyed, those of northern European descent – also seem to be naturally at higher risk for ocular melanoma. As you may know, it’s also important to get checked. There are not usually very many early symptoms of OM that are noticeable except by an eye doctor…
The notion that there is no correlation between OM and sun exposure is now outdated. Recent studies have identified statistically-significant correlation, specifically for choroidal melanoma (Keith – incidentally, one of those studies is from Australia, in fact!). Not only that, but horizon incident angle and latitude have also been correlated with choroidal tumor position. That such a correlation existed has long been suspected, but was elusive until recently. What is still uncertain is the exact mechanism (ie, which genes are involved) – the “usual suspects” in UV damage do not appear in choroidal melanoma tumors, generally speaking.