Uveal melanoma

What is it?

Uveal melanoma is a type of eye cancer. It affects about 6 people per million. Those with pale skin and blue or grey eyes are the most at risk.

  • Causes

    In uveal melanoma, tumours begin in the cells that give eyes their colour (these cells are called ‘melanocytes’). There is not usually any family history of the condition, and the exact cause in still unknown.  

  • Symptoms

    Symptoms of uveal melanoma depend on exactly where the tumour is within the middle layer of the eye (the uvea).

    They may include blurred vision, seeing flashes of light, floaters, a change in eye colour and changes to how much of the world you can see (the field of vision).

    Uveal melanoma is most likely to be spotted at a routine eye exam.

  • Treatments

    The main aim of treating uveal melanoma is to keep vision where possible and, if not, to prevent the eye becoming painful, and stop the cancer from spreading beyond the eye.

    Treatments for uveal melanoma include radiotherapy and surgery. Both options can mean that the eye can be preserved and the local tumour growth can be controlled.

    However, there may be some sight loss as a side-effect of treatment. In some cases, surgery to remove the whole eye may be the best option, for example if the tumour is very large or if the patient would rather have it done.

    Unfortunately, in around half of people with this type of cancer, tumour cells will escape into the blood stream and spread from the eye to the liver. If so, it is almost always fatal.

  • Research

    At the moment there is no treatment that can extend the lives of people with uveal melanoma that has spread to the liver. So we need research to provide some better treatment options.

    We also need to understand a lot more about what makes the tumours begin, grow and spread. It might be possible to develop better tools to predict which tumours are likely to spread, as well as better non-surgical treatment, to lower the chances of sight loss.

    Read our research projects
  • Clinical trials

    You could play an important part in eye research by being a participant in clinical research study that may benefit many people. You could even help shape clinical research by becoming more actively involved and having a say. Patients, carer, or anyone with an interest can help.

    What are clinical trials

    Clinical trials are research studies that find out if a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. They are a key research tool for improving medical knowledge and patient care. The people who carry out research are mostly the same doctors and healthcare professionals who treat people. Their aim is to find better ways of treating patients and keeping people healthy.

    Taking part

    Here are some ways to find out about research projects and clinical trials that you can get involved in.

    UK Clinical Trials Gateway

    The UK Clinical Trials Gateway run by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) provides easy to understand information about clinical research trials running in the UK, and gives to a large range of information about these trials. It is designed to enable patients and clinicians to locate and contact trials of interest. Visit their website and select the eye condition that you are interested in.

    NIHR Clinical Research Network Portfolio

    The NIHR Clinical Research Network Portfolio is a database of high-quality clinical research studies in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Within this the Ophthalmology Specialty Group supports a national portfolio of research studies in ophthalmology and the vision sciences. See their website for details.

    If you wish to join a trial it is always best to discuss this with your doctor or clinical team first.

Last updated September 2015
Approved by Prof. Sarah Coupland, University of Liverpool.

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