Screening & Prevention

OM Risk Factors

It is unclear exactly how and why someone gets OM and, as of now, there is no way to prevent it.

The majority of OM is thought to occur by chance (often referred to as sporadic), and everyone is at some risk of developing eye cancer. The genes that control growth in uveal cells obtain a mistake or become missing altogether. It is believed that certain risk factors including eye (iris) color, skin color, ancestry, tanning ability and a family history of ocular melanoma can predispose an individual to OM and the American Academy of Ophthalmology states that these factors may increase your risk for developing melanoma. Thus, reducing, for instance, UV exposure would reduce your risks for developing melanoma in your eye. Dr. Finger of the Eye Cancer Network believes that since choroidal melanomas are more commonly found in patients with blue eyes, outdoor occupations, and in Australia (where there is an ozone hole), it is reasonable to wear ultraviolet (UV) blocking sunglasses. "Think of sunglasses as sunblock for your eyes," he says.

OM risk factors include:
  • Being exposed to natural sunlight or artificial sunlight (such as from tanning beds) over long periods of time;
  • Having light-colored eyes (blue or green eyes);
  • Older age;
  • Caucasian descent;
  • Having certain inherited skin conditions, such as dysplastic nevus syndrome, that cause abnormal moles; and
  • Having abnormal skin pigmentation involving the eyelids and increased pigmentation on the uvea.

Strategies for Prevention & Early Detection

While OM is not included in the list of 'preventable cancers' as outlined by the Prevent Cancer Foundation, and as mentioned above there is no known cause of OM as there is, say, with lung cancer, whether you are a patient or not, OMF recommends you take precautionary -- and perhaps ultimately preventative -- measures against eye cancer.

Reduce UV Exposure: When it comes to UV exposure, one should always wear UV-protective sunglasses whenever outdoors. The sun's ultraviolet (UV) light can be very harmful to your eyes but good sunglasses should block 100% of the sun's UV spectrum. Add a broad-brimmed hat and you should be well ahead of the curve! Beyond reducing your risk of more common eye diseases including cataracts, macular degeneration and growths on the eye, many ophthalmologists would agree there is enough data to support the fact that you are reducing your overall eye cancer risk, too.

Stay Active and Exercise Regularly: While no major studies have been conducted looking specifically at the role of physical activity on ocular melanoma patients, it is clear with nearly every major cancer that there is an inverse relationship between physical activity and risk of cancer, with the most physically active individuals experiencing, on average, 20 to 80 percent reductions in risk. Prostate cancer is one of the few major cancers without strong epidemiological evidence. And after a cancer diagnosis, research indicates that physical activity may be beneficial in improving quality of life, reducing fatigue and assisting with energy balance. The National Cancer Institute is vigorously studying these linkages.

Eat Right: Each year, about 585,720 Americans die of cancer; around one-third of these deaths are linked to poor diet, physical inactivity, and carrying too much weight. So, in addition to staying active and exercising to maintain a healthy weight throughout life, diet is the next most important thing to focus on (other than quitting smoking, for those that smoke). So, we recommend that everyone eats smart and focuses their diets away from sugars and towards fruits and vegetables. Processed foods, red meat and alcohol should all be limited, too.

 You can read more about OMF's diet recommendations under Patient Resources.

Reduce Stress and Focus on Enjoying Life: According to the NCI, evidence from experimental studies suggests that psychological stress can affect a tumor’s ability to grow and spread. For example, some studies have shown that when mice bearing human tumors were kept confined or isolated from other mice—conditions that increase stress—their tumors were more likely to grow and spread (metastasize). In one set of experiments, tumors transplanted into the mammary fat pads of mice had much higher rates of spread to the lungs and lymph nodes if the mice were chronically stressed than if the mice were not stressed. Studies in mice and in human cancer cells grown in the laboratory have found that the stress hormone norepinephrine, part of the body’s fight-or-flight response system, may promoteangiogenesis and metastasis.

Although there is still no strong evidence that stress directly affects cancer outcomes, some data do suggest that patients can develop a sense of helplessness or hopelessness when stress becomes overwhelming. This response is associated with higher rates of death, although the mechanism for this outcome is unclear. It may be that people who feel helpless or hopeless do not seek treatment when they become ill, give up prematurely on or fail to adhere to potentially helpful therapy, engage in risky behaviors such as drug use, or do not maintain a healthy lifestyle, resulting in premature death.

See an Ophthalmologist Regularly: Generally, yearly checkups are helpful for preventive health, as eye doctors can occasionally catch some warning signs of systemic diseases such as OM. Your primary care doctor may also have other reasons for wanting you to see an eye doctor, so follow her or his directions. Overall, healthy adults ages 18 to 40 without risk factors (for example, diabetes or a family history of eye problems) should see an eye doctor every two or three years. Healthy adults ages 41 to 60 should see an eye doctor about every two years. Adults ages 18 to 60 with risk factors should see an eye doctor every one to two years. The American Optometric Association recommends that people ages 61 and over visit an eye doctor annually regardless of other risk factors.

Baseline Exam At Age 40

Getting your eyes checked is just as important as cancer or cholesterol screenings. That's why the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that, if you have no risk factors, you get a baseline eye disease screening at age 40 when early signs of disease and changes in vision start to occur. If you have any of the signs of eye disease -- especially the signs of uveal melanoma discussed on this site -- or risk factors at any age, see your ophthalmologist as soon as you can.

Learn more about baseline eye disease screening at