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Cancer By Type - Other Cancers - Eye Back   
Melanoma Research Foundation
Ocular Melanoma, or melanoma of the eye, is the most common primary eye tumor in adults with around 2,000 new cases each year in the United States. Like other melanomas, it begins in melanocytes, the cells that produce the pigment melanin that colors the skin, hair, and eyes, as well as forms moles.

Ocular Melanoma is also known as Uveal Melanoma and Choroidal Melanoma. It is usually found in the part of the eye called the uvea, which is composed of:

The iris - the colored part of the eye that opens and closes to change the amount of light that enters the eye.
The ciliary body - a muscle in the eye that changes the shape of the lens so the eye can focus.
The choroid - a layer of tissue that is in the back of the eye, next to the retina, that makes a picture. Choroidal melanomas are the most common type of ocular melanoma.

What's the difference between Ocular Melanoma and melanoma of the skin?

Frequency/Incidence Melanomas of the skin have been increasing in frequency over the last several decades, while such a trend is less evident with ocular melanoma. OM occurs in approximately 6 people per million per year, while invasive cutaneous (skin) melanoma occurs in approximately 1 in 50 people per year.

Risk Factors Some cutaneous melanoma risk factors appear to be dependent on latitude, presumably reflecting exposure to ultraviolet light. This trend has not been evident in ocular melanoma. Although some studies have linked sun exposure to ocular melanoma, more research is needed to better draw these conclusions.

Genetic Mutations Unlike cutaneous melanoma, ocular melanoma lacks mutations in the following genes: BRAF, NRAS, and KIT. OM has distinct genetic alterations and a strong tendency to metastasize (spread) to the liver. Metastatic melanoma is the general term for spreading of cancer cells.

Treatment Chemotherapy may produce response in cutaneous melanoma but it has not shown to be effective in OM. There are several melanoma treatment options and all should be discussed with your melanoma treatment team.
Ocular Melanoma Risk Factors

Most research indicates that exposure to UV light is not a risk factor for ocular melanoma. However, individuals with light colored eyes who sustained frequent exposure to UV radiation tend to have a slightly elevated risk. Fair skin type is also a risk factor for ocular melanoma.

About 6 people per million per year are diagnosed with ocular melanoma in the United States. The incidence is similar in other Caucasian populations worldwide. Ocular Melanoma accounts for approximately 5-12% of all melanoma cases. You may also be interested in more melanoma statistics and facts.

Despite continued advances in local treatment of the primary ocular melanoma since the mid-20thcentury, there has not been a concomitant measurable increase in patient survival.
Ocular Melanoma Gene Mutations

In addition to genetic profiling of the primary tumor, additional genes have recently been identified in ocular melanoma as being mutated.

The most common mutations currently described in ocular melanoma are the GNAQ and GNA11 genes. About 50% of people will have the GNAQ mutation and around another 23% will have the GNA11 mutation.

Researchers are currently working to understand the implications of these genetic mutations, and trials are ongoing to identify systemic treatments to impact these mutated genes. Unlike cutaneous melanoma, ocular melanomas typically do not have the BRAF mutation.
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