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Intraocular melanoma is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the eye.
Intraocular melanoma begins in the middle of three layers of the wall of the eye. The outer layer includes the white sclera (the "white of the eye") and the clear cornea at the front of the eye. The inner layer has a lining of nerve tissue, called the retina, which senses light and sends images along the optic nerve to the brain.
The middle layer, where intraocular melanoma forms, is called the uvea or uveal tract, and has three main parts:
The iris is the colored area at the front of the eye (the "eye color"). It can be seen through the clear cornea. The pupil is in the center of the iris and it changes size to let more or less light into the eye. Intraocular melanoma of the iris is usually a small tumor that grows slowly and rarely spreads to other parts of the body.
The ciliary body is a ring of tissue with muscle fibers that change the size of the pupil and the shape of the lens. It is found behind the iris. Changes in the shape of the lens help the eye focus. The ciliary body also makes the clear fluid that fills the space between the cornea and the iris. Intraocular melanoma of the ciliary body is often larger and more likely to spread to other parts of the body than intraocular melanoma of the iris.
The choroid is a layer of blood vessels that bring oxygen and nutrients to the eye. Most intraocular melanomas begin in the choroid. Intraocular melanoma of the choroid is often larger and more likely to spread to other parts of the body than intraocular melanoma of the iris.
Anatomy of the eye, showing the outside and inside of the eye including the sclera, cornea, iris, ciliary body, choroid, retina, vitreous humor, and optic nerve. The vitreous humor is a liquid that fills the center of the eye.
Intraocular melanoma is a rare cancer that forms from cells that make melanin in the iris, ciliary body, and choroid. It is the most common eye cancer in adults.
Being older and having fair skin may increase the risk of intraocular melanoma.
Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk.
Risk factors for intraocular melanoma include the following:
Signs of intraocular melanoma include blurred vision or a dark spot on the iris.
Intraocular melanoma may not cause early signs or symptoms. It is sometimes found during a regular eye exam when the doctor dilates the pupil and looks into the eye. Signs and symptoms may be caused by intraocular melanoma or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:
Tests that examine the eye are used to help detect (find) and diagnose intraocular melanoma.
The following tests and procedures may be used:
A biopsy of the tumor is rarely needed to diagnose intraocular melanoma.
A biopsy is the removal of cells or tissues so they can be viewed under a microscope to check for signs of cancer. Rarely, a biopsy of the tumor is needed to diagnose intraocular melanoma. Tissue that is removed during a biopsy or surgery to remove the tumor may be tested to get more information about prognosis and which treatment options are best.
The following tests may be done on the sample of tissue:
A biopsy may result in retinal detachment (the retina separates from other tissues in the eye). This can be repaired by surgery.
Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:
After intraocular melanoma has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body.
The process used to find out if cancer has spread to other parts of the body is called staging. The information gathered from the staging process determines the stage of the disease. It is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment.
The following tests and procedures may be used in the staging process:
The following sizes are used to describe intraocular melanoma:
The tumor is 5 to 16 millimeters in diameter and from 1 to 3 millimeters thick. Millimeters (mm). A sharp pencil point is about 1 mm, a new crayon point is about 2 mm, and a new pencil eraser is about 5 mm.
The tumor is 16 millimeters or smaller in diameter and from 3.1 to 8 millimeters thick.
The tumor is:
Though most intraocular melanoma tumors are raised, some are flat. These diffuse tumors grow widely across the uvea.
There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.
Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood:
Cancer may spread from where it began to other parts of the body.
When cancer spreads to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. Cancer cells break away from where they began (the primary tumor) and travel through the lymph system or blood.
The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if intraocular melanoma spreads to the liver, the cancer cells in the liver are actually intraocular melanoma cells. The disease is metastatic intraocular melanoma, not liver cancer.
There are two staging systems for intraocular melanoma.
Intraocular melanoma has two staging systems. The staging system used depends on where in the eye the cancer first formed:
If intraocular melanoma spreads to the optic nerve or nearby tissue of the eye socket, it is called extraocular extension.
The following stages are used for intraocular melanoma of the iris:
In stage I, the tumor is in the iris only and is not more than one fourth the size of the iris.
Stage II is divided into stages IIA and IIB.
Stage III is divided into stages IIIA and IIIB.
In stage IV, the tumor may be any size and has spread:
The following stages are used for intraocular melanoma of the ciliary body and choroid:
Intraocular melanoma of the ciliary body and choroid is grouped into four size categories. The category depends on how wide and thick the tumor is. Category 1 tumors are the smallest and category 4 tumors are the biggest.
In stage I, the tumor is size category 1 and is in the choroid only.
Stage III is divided into stages IIIA, IIIB, and IIIC.
Recurrent intraocular melanoma is cancer that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. The melanoma may come back in the eye or in other parts of the body.
There are different types of treatments for patients with intraocular melanoma.
Different types of treatments are available for patients with intraocular melanoma. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Five types of standard treatment are used:
Surgery is the most common treatment for intraocular melanoma. The following types of surgery may be used:
Watchful waiting is closely monitoring a patient's condition without giving any treatment until signs or symptoms appear or change. Pictures are taken over time to keep track of changes in the size of the tumor and how fast it is growing.
Watchful waiting is used for patients who do not have signs or symptoms and the tumor is not growing. It is also used when the tumor is in the only eye with useful vision.
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy:
Plaque radiotherapy of the eye. A type of radiation therapy used to treat eye tumors. Radioactive seeds are placed on one side of a thin piece of metal (usually gold) called a plaque. The plaque is sewn onto the outside wall of the eye. The seeds give off radiation which kills the cancer. The plaque is removed at the end of treatment, which usually lasts for several days.
The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated. External and internal radiation therapy are used to treat intraocular melanoma.
Photocoagulation is a procedure that uses laser light to destroy blood vessels that bring nutrients to the tumor, causing the tumor cells to die. Photocoagulation may be used to treat small tumors. This is also called light coagulation.
Thermotherapy is the use of heat from a laser to destroy cancer cells and shrink the tumor.
New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.
Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
Treatment for intraocular (uveal) melanoma may cause side effects.
For information about side effects caused by treatment for cancer, see our Side Effects page.
Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.
For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.
Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.
Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.
Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.
Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.
Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's listing of clinical trials.
Follow-up tests may be needed.
Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests.
Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.
For information about the treatments listed below, see the Treatment Option Overview section.
Treatment of iris melanoma may include the following:
Check the list of NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with iris melanoma. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
Ciliary Body Melanoma
Treatment of tumors in the ciliary body and choroid may include the following:
Check the list of NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with ciliary body and choroid melanoma, small size. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
Treatment of small choroid melanoma may include the following:
Treatment of medium choroid melanoma may include the following:
Treatment of large choroid melanoma may include the following:
Extraocular Extension Melanoma and Metastatic Intraocular (Uveal) Melanoma
Treatment of extraocular extension melanoma that has spread to the bone around the eye may include the following:
An effective treatment for metastatic intraocular melanoma has not been found. A clinical trial may be a treatment option. Talk with your doctor about your treatment options.
Check the list of NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with extraocular extension melanoma and metastatic intraocular melanoma. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
Recurrent Intraocular (Uveal) Melanoma
An effective treatment for recurrent intraocular melanoma has not been found. A clinical trial may be a treatment option. Talk with your doctor about your treatment options.
Check the list of NCI-supported cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with recurrent intraocular melanoma. For more specific results, refine the search by using other search features, such as the location of the trial, the type of treatment, or the name of the drug. Talk with your doctor about clinical trials that may be right for you. General information about clinical trials is available from the NCI website.
For more information from the National Cancer Institute about intraocular (uveal) melanoma, see the Intraocular (Eye) Melanoma Home Page.
For general cancer information and other resources from the National Cancer Institute, see the following:
Physician Data Query (PDQ) is the National Cancer Institute's (NCI's) comprehensive cancer information database. The PDQ database contains summaries of the latest published information on cancer prevention, detection, genetics, treatment, supportive care, and complementary and alternative medicine. Most summaries come in two versions. The health professional versions have detailed information written in technical language. The patient versions are written in easy-to-understand, nontechnical language. Both versions have cancer information that is accurate and up to date and most versions are also available in Spanish.
PDQ is a service of the NCI. The NCI is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH is the federal government's center of biomedical research. The PDQ summaries are based on an independent review of the medical literature. They are not policy statements of the NCI or the NIH.
Purpose of This Summary
This PDQ cancer information summary has current information about the treatment of intraocular melanoma. It is meant to inform and help patients, families, and caregivers. It does not give formal guidelines or recommendations for making decisions about health care.
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Editorial Boards write the PDQ cancer information summaries and keep them up to date. These Boards are made up of experts in cancer treatment and other specialties related to cancer. The summaries are reviewed regularly and changes are made when there is new information. The date on each summary ("Date Last Modified") is the date of the most recent change.
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Clinical Trial Information
A clinical trial is a study to answer a scientific question, such as whether one treatment is better than another. Trials are based on past studies and what has been learned in the laboratory. Each trial answers certain scientific questions in order to find new and better ways to help cancer patients. During treatment clinical trials, information is collected about the effects of a new treatment and how well it works. If a clinical trial shows that a new treatment is better than one currently being used, the new treatment may become "standard." Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.
Clinical trials are listed in PDQ and can be found online at NCI's website. Many cancer doctors who take part in clinical trials are also listed in PDQ. For more information, call the Cancer Information Service 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).
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The best way to cite this PDQ summary is:
PDQ® Adult Treatment Editorial Board. PDQ Intraocular (Uveal) Melanoma Treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated <MM/DD/YYYY>. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/eye/patient/intraocular-melanoma-treatment-pdq. Accessed <MM/DD/YYYY>. [PMID: 26389277]
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Last Revised: 2017-05-01
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Last modified on: 8 September 2017