When it comes to skin cancer, most people think of sunscreen or suspicious moles, but did you know that you can also develop skin cancer in your eyes? For instance, basal cell carcinoma sometimes develops on the eyelids and intraocular melanoma is a cancer that develops within a layer of the eye. Susan McCutcheon, OD, ProMedica Eye Care, says that a routine eye check-ups play an important role in detecting these cancers.
“A dilated eye exam enables an optmetrics/ophthalmologist to see inside the eye and check the health of the eye,” she explains. “We look for moles on the eyes that have changed color or size, lumps on the skin that crust, don’t go away or bleed, or the loss of eyelashes.”
Eye doctors also look for eye conditions such as macular degeneration, which affects a person’s central vision, and diabetic retinopathy, a common diabetic eye disease that can lead to adult blindness.
Protecting Your Eyes
While anyone can develop skin cancer in or around the eyes, people who are older, have fair skin, have blue eyes or work outdoors are at a higher risk.
The good news is that there are ways to reduce your risk. Dr. McCutcheon recommends sunglasses that block out 99-100% of both UVA and UVB radiation. “It’s important, just like skin exposure, to wear sunglasses between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. A hat with a 3-inch brim can also offer protection from the sun’s rays,” says Dr. McCutcheon. “It is still recommended to wear sunglasses on overcast days as the UV rays can penetrate through clouds as well as reflect off the water, sand and snow.”
In addition to increasing your risk of developing skin cancer in or around the eyes, UV rays can severely sunburn your eyes. Dr. McCutcheon says, “The harmful rays can actually burn your cornea. It’s called photokeratitis; It’s very painful, but can be treated.”
The following infographic from the American Academy of Ophthalmology shows the knowledge gap that exists about eye protection, especially regarding a person’s vulnerability to UV damage and the importance of protecting kids.