Cancer can develop from any structures in the body and this includes eyelid skin or the lining of the eye (conjunctiva). The most common types of eyelid cancer are related to sun damage, known as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Dr. Yin is also experienced in treating rare cancer such as Sebaceous carcinoma and Merkel cell carcinoma.

Cancer can arrive from any tissue of the eye including the eyelid, conjunctiva (covering of the eye), and orbit (space around and behind the eye). 

Eyelid Cancer

Eye cancers are classified based on the cell type of origin, the most common eyelid cancer being basal cell carcinoma followed by squamous cell carcinoma. 

Symptoms & Causes of Eyelid Cancer

What causes eyelid cancer? 

Common forms of eyelid cancer are caused by skin damage from over-exposure to the sun and/or genetic predisposition. Eyelid cancer is not caused by the food you eat but there are some environmental factors that can promote the growth of cancer, such as exposure to radiation or cancer-forming (carcinogens) chemicals.

What are the symptoms of eyelid cancer? 

The symptoms of eyelid cancer can be subtle. Symptoms can range from recurrent breakdown of eyelid surfaces with or without bleeding, but this isn’t usually painful, so it can be hard to detect.

Treating Eyelid Cancer

Treatment for eyelid cancer varies depending on the type you have. The primary mode of treatment is surgery. When treating surgically, it is important to ensure that the cancer is completely removed. When surgery is not possible due to advanced disease, the patient’s age, or other medical conditions, other forms of treatment can be used, such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy. More recently, there are also two new types of medication that uses genes and a person’s own immune system to attack cancer cells, these are called targeted therapy and immunotherapy, respectively

Conjunctival Cancer

Conjunctival cancer is a cancer of the covering of the eye. The two most common types of conjunctival cancer are squamous cell carcinoma, also called Ocular Surface Squamous Neoplasia (OSSN), and melanoma

Symptoms & Causes of Conjunctival Cancer

What causes conjunctival cancer? 

Conjunctival cancer is not as strongly linked to sun damage as skin cancer.  Immunosuppression and certain viral infections can be risk factors for the development of OSSN.

What are the symptoms? 

Conjunctival cancer can be challenging to detect as it’s usually painless and the signs are sometimes only visible under the microscope. What may be noticeable are white patches on the surface of the eye.

Treating Conjunctival Cancer

Today, OSSN is usually treated first with topical (eye drops) immunotherapy or chemotherapy to shrink cancer and followed by surgery if needed. Radiation therapy may also be considered when other treatment options aren’t possible. 

Treatment options for conjunctival cancer are dependent on the individual. Talk to your doctor about whether this is an option in your case.

Treatment Side Effects

Although all treatment options can have side effects, topical immunotherapy and chemotherapy are generally very well tolerated with mild side effects. The most common side effects being red eyes, watering eyes, or sandy sensation in the eyes. 


Orbital Tumor

Orbit is the space within the bony walls that house the eye and all its supportive muscles, fat, nerves, and blood vessels. An orbital tumor is an abnormal growth in the obit, that can either be benign or cancerous. 

Symptoms & Causes of an Orbital Tumor

What causes an Orbital Tumor? 

Much like conjunctival and eyelid cancer, an orbital tumor can occur anytime during your lifetime. There aren’t any specific causes of the orbital tumor, making it hard to prevent. 

What are the symptoms? 

Patients with an orbital tumor may experience double vision, loss of color vision, bulging eye, or displacement of the eye. If the tumor is small, there may be little to no symptoms. In rare cases, patients may experience pain as an indication, but this is less common. 

Treating an Orbital Tumor

Treatment of orbital tumor depends on whether it’s cancerous or causing a problem for the patient. A typical treatment may involve surgery and/or radiation. At times, chemotherapy or targeted therapy may be used to shrink the tumor as well. 

Not all growths need to be removed but to investigate further and get a diagnosis, a surgical biopsy may be required. This involves taking a piece of the tumor for analysis.

Treatment Side Effects

After a surgical procedure to treat or remove the orbital tumor, it usually takes two to three weeks for swelling and bruising to subside. When operating on the orbit, there is a rare chance of causing double vision or bleeding. Providing this is addressed properly, there is a low risk of loss of vision.

Eye Cancer in British Columbia

All surgery & radiation is covered under the Medical Service Plan (MSP); however, sometimes medications are not. Speak with your doctor to determine if your medication is covered.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the eye cancer survival rate?

The risk of spread of cancer from the eyelid to the rest of the body (distant metastasis) or lymph nodes (nodal metastasis) depends on the type and size of the cancer. When it’s caught early, survival rate can be greater than 80% for the common forms of eyelid cancer.

How to prevent eye cancer

There isn’t a specific way to prevent eye cancer, however, decreasing sun exposure does help. Some suggest avoiding smoking, ensuring you eat a healthy diet and avoiding environmental toxins which may increase risk of cancer overall. 

How common is eye cancer?

Eye cancer is much less common than diabetes, or high blood pressure. However, based on data from the US there are close to 50,000 new eyelid cancer diagnosed each year. 

What does eye cancer look and feel like?

Eye cancer is often hard to see or feel, and can be very subtle. In some cases, there may be a discoloration or bump. If you see changes in your eye or eyelids, consult a specialist for more information. The biggest misconception is that cancer is painful, but that is not always true. 

How is eye cancer diagnosed?

In some cases, eye cancer can be diagnosed based on appearance when examined by a specialist. Other times it is harder to be sure and may require a biopsy. 

What is the recovery time after treating eye cancer?

The recovery time following eye cancer treatment can take anywhere between 2 to 3 weeks. If the cancer is large and requiring extensive surgery, the recovery time can also be longer.

How fast does eye cancer grow? Do I need emergency surgery?

Most eyelid and conjunctival cancers are slow growing; taking years to grow to visible size. However, there are a few rare types of eye cancers that are rapidly growing and require immediate treatment.

Is misdiagnosis of eye cancer common?

 There is a rare form of eyelid cancer, Sebaceous carcinoma, which can be mistaken for a stye (chalazion) as it looks and behaves exactly like a stye. The way to diagnose this is often by biopsy.

Will I go blind? Will this impact my vision?

Majority of eyelid and conjunctiva cancer does not impact vision, though comfort or appearance of the eye can be impacted. In addition, sometimes treatment for cancer can increase dry eye symptoms, talk to your eye specialist about these risks. 

What is the orbital tumor survival rate?

With all cases of eye cancer, the survival rate is dependent on the type of tumor or cancer. If the tumor is benign, there is no risk to survival, but malignant types of orbital tumors can be highly variable depending on the type of cells it’s from and individual factors. 

How common are orbital tumors?

Although orbital tumors are not common, Dr. Yin sees it frequently as we are one of the very few specialists in B.C. to provide treatment for an orbital tumor. 

Can an eye tumor in the eye be benign?

Any eye tumor or growth, whether it’s eyelid, conjunctival or in the orbit, can be either benign or malignant. If you are concerned, please talk to your doctor.

What does an eye tumor look and feel like?

A patient with an eye tumor can experience little to no symptoms, but with larger tumors, the eye can look or feel more prominent and vision can sometimes be impacted.