Eye cancer is often curable if it’s contained to your eye. It’s harder to treat if the cancer spreads to other tissues.

Roughly 3,500 people will develop eye cancer in the United States in 2023. About 90% of these cases will be melanoma.

People with ocular melanoma, or melanoma of the eye, live at least 5 years after their diagnosis about 81% as often as people without ocular melanoma. This is known as a relative survival rate.

About 95% of people with the most common ocular melanoma subtype can preserve their eye with treatment.

Let’s examine which factors influence whether eye cancer can be cured.

Your doctor may tell you that your cancer is in remission if it’s improved with treatment. Partial remission is when the cancer has shrunk but can still be detected. Complete remission is when all traces of cancer are gone.

The chances of your cancer returning decrease the longer your cancer has been in complete remission. Most cancers that return do so within 5 years. For this reason, doctors sometimes consider cancer cured if you’ve been in complete remission for 5 years.

Even after 5 years, your doctor will likely want to monitor you with regular tests since there’s a small chance your cancer could return.

The following factors influence the chances of curing eye cancer.

Cancer location

Cancer in certain parts of the eye tends to spread quicker than others.

For example, melanoma originating in the moist tissue layer covering your eye, the conjunctiva, tends to be harder to treat than melanoma that arises inside the eye within the uveal tract.

Tumors that develop in the iris tend to have a good outlook because they’re often easily noticeable.

Tumor size

Smaller tumors are generally easier to treat than larger tumors. They’re also less likely to spread to distant tissues.

Types of cancer

Most primary eye cancers are melanoma, but metastasis from other distant cancers is far more common. Here are other primary eye cancers:

Age and health

Younger age and better health usually improve your outlook.

According to the National Cancer Institute, the 5-year relative survival rate of primary eye cancer in the United States is about 96% in people under age 15 years because most cases are the more treatable retinoblastoma. The 5-year relative survival rate is 74.8% in people over age 75 years.

Cancer stage

The most common staging system for ocular melanoma is the TNM system. It divides cancer into stages 1–4 based on:

  • tumor size and location
  • how many lymph nodes have cancer
  • whether the cancer has spread

Higher stage cancers typically have poorer outlooks.

Cell types

Ocular melanomas comprise spindle cells and epithelioid cells. Cancers made of mostly spindle cells have a better outlook than cancers consisting of mostly epithelioid cells.

Replication rate

Doctors can determine how quickly cancer cells replicate by examining a tissue sample under a microscope. Cancers that replicate slower tend to have a better outlook.

Genetic changes

Certain genetic changes inside your cancer cells are linked to quicker spread. Your doctor can identify these changes by examining a small sample of your cancer under a microscope.

Genetic changes linked to quicker spread include:

  • missing chromosome 3
  • losing part of chromosome 6
  • an extra copy of part of chromosome 8


People with ocular melanoma producing a substance called KI-67 have a greater chance of their cancer spreading to distant areas.

Stage 1 ocular melanoma is the easiest stage to cure. In this stage, the cancer is small and contained to the eye.

Stage 2 ocular melanoma may or may not grow into structures outside the eyeball. It’s still potentially curable in most people.

Stage 3 ocular melanoma has started to grow into surrounding tissues. It’s also potentially curable in most people.

Stage 4 ocular melanoma has spread to lymph nodes or distant tissue. Eye cancer that has spread to distant tissues isn’t usually considered curable.

Here’s a look at the 5-year relative survival rates for ocular melanoma in the United States from 2012–2018 based on the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database:

Stage5-year relative survival rate
Localized (contained to the eye)85%
Regional (contained to the eye and surrounding tissue)67%
Distant (spread to other tissues)16%
All stages81%

Doctors use five types of standard treatment to treat intraocular melanoma. They are:

  • watchful waiting, which is seeing how the cancer progresses before starting treatment
  • surgery
  • radiation therapy
  • photocoagulation, which destroys cancer cells with light
  • thermocoagulation, which destroys cancer cells with heat

Surgery may include the removal of your:

  • tumor and a small amount of tissue
  • eyeball and part of your optic nerve (enucleation)
  • eyeball, eyelid, and surrounding tissue

Therapies for retinoblastoma include:

Treatment for cancer that has spread from other parts of the body (ocular metastasis) depends on the type of cancer, its stage, and your overall health.

Here are some frequently asked questions people have about eye cancer treatment.

How common is eye cancer?

The American Cancer Society estimates 3,490 people will receive a diagnosis of eye cancer in the United States in 2023.

How aggressive is eye cancer?

Ocular melanoma tends to be aggressive. Melanoma that develops in the outer conjunctiva tends to be more aggressive than melanoma that arises inside the eye’s uveal tract.

How quickly can eye cancer spread?

Ocular melanoma can spread to distant organs in as little as 2–3 years after diagnosis. But some cancers don’t spread for decades.

Is eye cancer deadly?

A person’s overall prognosis, or outlook, depends on the specific eye cancer diagnosis and tumor stage.

Most people with ocular melanoma do not die from it. Ocular melanoma is most likely to be deadly if it’s diagnosed in stage 4.

Eye cancer is a rare type of cancer. It’s often curable if it’s diagnosed when the cancer is small and contained to your eye. It becomes harder to treat if the cancer spreads to distant tissues.

Many factors influence how easy your cancer is to treat. Your age, type of cancer, and cancer stage all have a large impact on your survival.