Melanoma is a cancer that begins in the melanocytes, the pigment producing cells in the body and can occur many places including on the skin, in the digestive tract, in the spinal cord, and in the eye. Ocular (uveal) melanoma, or melanoma of the eye, is the most common form of eye cancer in adults. The uveal tract is the layer of the eye that includes the iris, ciliary body and the choroid.
Unlike cutaneous melanoma, or melanoma of the skin, ocular melanoma is not thought to be related to sun exposure. Risk factors include a previously existing “freckle or mole” within the uveal track, light skin, light hair, light eyes and there is a slight male prevalence. Approximately 2,000 Americans are diagnosed with ocular melanoma each year, comprises approximately 5-12% of all melanoma and is most commonly diagnosed around 55 years of age.
Ocular melanoma can develop in anyone – no matter their age, gender, skin color or race. Symptoms of ocular melanoma include change in iris color, blurred or distorted vision, flashing lights, visual field loss, unilateral (one eye) dilated blood vessels on the sclera (white portion of the eye), and pain. However, many patients do not have any noticeable symptoms. Most ocular melanomas are diagnosed by an optometrist or an ophthalmologist during a dilated eye exam.
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