Symptoms of Ocular Melanoma

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With ocular melanoma, the pigment-producing cells that give your eyes color, known as melanocytes, become cancerous. Symptoms will depend on the size and location of the tumor and can range from no symptoms at all to problems with your vision, as well as pain and pressure in the eye.

Ocular melanoma usually starts in the layer just beneath the white part of your eye (the sclera), in what's known as the uvea.

The uvea is made up of the colored iris; the ciliary body, which changes the shape of the lens; and the choroid at the back of the eye, beneath the light-sensitive retina. Usually, the ocular melanoma starts in the choroid at the back of the eye.

This article will look closely at both common and rare symptoms of ocular melanoma, highlight complications, and discuss when it's important to seek out a healthcare professional.

Person having an eye exam

Jasmin Merdan / Getty Images

Frequent Symptoms

Early on, ocular melanoma usually does not have any symptoms. In fact, it can take years for symptoms to occur. If the tumor grows and the retina is impacted, symptoms that develop can include:

  • Visual blurring
  • Seeing double
  • Distortion of vision
  • Loss of vision in some areas
  • Feeling like there is a foreign body in the eye
  • Noticing flashes of light
  • Seeing a dark spot on the colored iris
  • Change in pupil shape (the opening that allows light into the eye)
  • Change in the color of the iris (pigmented portion at the front of the eye)
  • Defect in the iris or conjunctiva (connective tissue covering the surface of the eye)
  • Seeing floaters, specks that drift in front of the eye

Rare Symptoms

In addition, less common symptoms may develop, such as:

  • Eye bulging, known as proptosis
  • Pain or soreness, which will not occur unless the tumor has expanded outside the eye
  • A feeling of pressure in the eye

Complications/Subgroup Indications

As ocular melanoma progresses, it can lead to serious complications. Some potential complications to watch for include the following:

Secondary Pigmentary Glaucoma

This is a form of glaucoma (a condition in which pressure rises in the eye). Such secondary pigmentary glaucoma can occur when cells from the tumor disperse in the eye and block the anterior chamber angle, the area at the front of the eye where needed drainage of fluid occurs. This can ultimately cause permanent vision loss.

Melanomalytic Glaucoma

When tumor cell pigment is released into the eye's drainage system, known as the trabecular meshwork, a blockage can result. In turn, fluid can build up in the eye and the pressure can rise. If not treated, glaucoma can lead to vision loss.

Retinal Detachment

With ocular melanoma, fluid can sometimes leak beneath the light-sensitive retina at the back of the eye. This causes a part of the retina to peel away from the back of the eye. If this retinal detachment is not promptly treated, it can lead to permanent vision loss.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you believe that you have symptoms of ocular melanoma, get your eyes checked promptly by a healthcare provider specializing in eye health (such as an ophthalmologist), even if there may be another explanation. The earlier you can catch ocular melanoma, the better.

While ocular melanoma tends to grow slowly, it does not always stay within the confines of the eye. The cancer can potentially leave the eye and spread elsewhere in the body in a process known as metastasis. Ocular melanoma commonly metastasizes to the liver, although it can spread elsewhere and become life-threatening.

About half of those diagnosed with ocular melanoma will find that it has metastasized within 10 to 15 years.

Summary

Ocular melanoma can be silent early on and come with no symptoms. Then, symptoms can arise depending on where in the eye it develops and how large the tumor is. Common symptoms can vary from blurry, distorted, or double-vision to feeling a foreign body sensation, noticing light flashes, or seeing floaters drift across the vision.

More unusual symptoms can include pain, soreness, pressure in the eye, and bulging eyes. Complications from ocular melanoma can include the development of secondary pigmentary, melanomalytic glaucoma, or retinal detachment from fluid leaking beneath the retina.

A Word From Verywell

If you notice any symptoms that might be related to ocular melanoma, consult with an eye-health professional, such as an ophthalmologist, as soon as possible to have your condition evaluated. Ocular melanoma tends to be a slow-growing cancer, but the sooner it is treated, the better for your vision and overall health.

5 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.
  1. National Organization for Rare Diseases. Ocular melanoma.

  2. Cedars Sinai. Eye cancer: intraocular melanoma.

  3. American Cancer Society. Signs and symptoms of eye cancer.

  4. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Glaucoma secondary to intraocular tumors.

  5. Ocular Melanoma Foundation. Diagnosis.