Symptoms of Ocular Melanoma

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Ocular melanoma is an extremely rare form of cancer that affects the eye. It has an incidence of five cases per million adults.

People with ocular melanoma may not have any symptoms. Often, an eye doctor (an optometrist or ophthalmologist) finds the melanoma during a regular eye examination.

Read on to learn about the symptoms of ocular melanoma and when to talk to your doctor.

Closeup of blue eye

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Frequent Symptoms

Ocular melanoma may not cause symptoms. In 30% of cases, patients are asymptomatic.

When they do occur, the symptoms of ocular melanoma depend on the location and size of the tumor within the eye, and whether the tumor is having secondary effects on the thin layer of tissue that lines the very back of the inside of the eyeball (retina).

Possible symptoms of ocular melanoma can include:

  • Problems with vision (such as blurry vision)
  • Floaters (spots or squiggles drifting in the field of vision) or flashes of light
  • Visual field loss (losing part of your field of sight)
  • A growing dark spot on the colored part of the eye (iris)
  • A change in the shape of the pupil (the dark spot in the center of the eye)

Vision symptoms are not always a sign of cancer. Blurry vision can be caused by nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism, which are common and can often be corrected with glasses.

Rare Symptoms

Some people with ocular melanoma have reported less common symptoms. Rare symptoms of ocular melanoma include:

  • Eye redness and irritation
  • Bulging or displacement of the eye (proptosis)
  • Metamorphopsia (a distortion of vision when a person looks at a grid of straight lines and the lines appear wavy and parts of the grid appear blank; this is more commonly a symptom of macular degeneration)
  • Pain, if the cancer has spread to the outside of the eye or caused the pressure inside the eye (intraocular pressure) to become too high

Sometimes, ocular melanoma can lead to the detachment of the nerve-rich membrane lining at the back of the eyes (retina). Retinal detachment is an eye emergency that requires immediate treatment to avoid severe vision loss or blindness.

Complications

Ocular melanoma has the potential to spread (metastasize) to other areas of the body. The liver is the most common organ in the body that is affected by metastasis of ocular melanoma. Less often, it occurs in the lungs, skin or soft tissue, and bone.

Some estimates suggest that ocular melanoma will metastasize in 40% to 50% of cases.

The symptoms of metastatic ocular melanoma will depend on where cancer has spread, but can include:

  • Liver metastases may present with loss of appetite, fatigue, fever, itchy skin, and yellowing of the whites of the eyes or skin (jaundice).
  • Lung metastases may cause coughing (with or without blood), chest pain, and shortness of breath.

When there are no signs that cancer has spread outside of the eye, the five-year survival rate for ocular melanoma is 85%.

When cancer has spread to organs such as the liver, the survival rate is only 13%.

When to See a Doctor

You should tell your doctor or eye doctor about any changes to your vision, the outer appearance of your eye, or the movement of your eyes. Most eye issues are not cancer and are treatable if caught early.

Suddenly experiencing blurred vision can be a sign of a more serious condition, such as:

  • Eye injury: An injury to the iris or pupil can cause blurry vision, as well as light sensitivity and pain.
  • Uncontrolled diabetes: When a person has high blood sugar (glucose), water is pulled into the lens of the eye, which swells and blurs vision. High sugar levels can also weaken blood vessels and damage the retina, causing blurriness.
  • Stroke: When a stroke occurs, the brain does not get enough oxygen. Vision, as well as other bodily functions, can be impaired by the lack of oxygen. In addition to blurred vision, light sensitivity, seeing double, and even sight loss can occur when a stroke happens. A stroke is a medical emergency that requires immediate care.

Sudden, intense changes in your vision can be a sign of a more serious health condition, like a stroke, and require immediate medical attention.

Summary

Ocular melanoma is a rare type of cancer that affects the eyes. It is often spotted during a routine eye exam. Most of the time, the cancer is found before it has spread to other parts of the body. When it does spread beyond the eye, the liver is the most common place for it to go. When caught early and treated, ocular melanoma has a good outcome.

A Word From Verywell

If you have experienced changes to your vision, know that it is not always a sign of cancer or a serious health condition. Some changes are simply related to getting older. However, you should tell your doctor about these changes. They might refer you to an eye doctor for a more thorough exam.

If you are diagnosed with ocular melanoma, know that it is treatable and often people with this type of cancer have a good prognosis when it is caught early.

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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