How to lower your eyelid cancer risk

Published in MD Anderson’s Focus on Health

Did you know you can develop cancer on your eyelid? Fortunately, there are ways to prevent eyelid cancer.

By India Ogazi

protect your eyes from the sun

The eyelid is the most delicate skin on the body. For some, it’s more susceptible to developing cancer. But eyelid cancer can be prevented.

Here are three things you should know about eyelid cancer prevention.

Learn the eyelid cancer risk factors

UV radiation – those harmful rays from the sun and tanning beds – is the most common cause of eyelid cancer.

“About 95 percent of eyelid cancers in the US are the result of sun exposure,” says Richard Allen, M.D., Ph.D., professor and oculoplastic surgeon at MD Anderson’s Ophthalmology Clinic.  “This places people with light skin, red or blond hair and light-colored eyes, who tend to sunburn easily, at a higher risk.”

People who have had radiation to the face are also at greater risk for eyelid cancer. So are those who have weakened immune systems.

In some extremely rare cases, eyelid cancer can be caused by a genetic condition known as basal cell nevus syndrome. People with this syndrome are at higher risk for developing skin cancer.

Protect your eyelids

Be sure to carefully place sunscreen on your eyelids – both the upper and lower. Some people avoid this area for fear of accidentally getting it into their eyes. If you’re concerned about this, use a sunscreen formulated to avoid stinging.

“Be wise and protect your skin daily with a facial sunscreen lotion with an SPF of 30 or higher,” Allen says.

When you’re out in the sun wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses for added protection. Use sunglasses that provide UVA and UVB protection. If you wear eyeglasses, be sure to have a UV-protective coating on your lenses.


Talk to your doctor if you notice symptoms. Eyelid cancer is easiest to treat when it’s caught early.

Keep your immune system strong by following a healthy diet and exercise regimen. Don’t smoke, and don’t drink alcohol in excess.

Know how to spot eyelid cancer symptoms

Unlike a sty, eyelid tumors are usually painless.

“Most people come to see me because they suddenly notice a growth on their eyelid, which is a symptom of eyelid cancer,” Allen says.

Eyelid tumors are usually asymmetrical and may bleed. Other symptoms of an eyelid tumor include:

  • eyelash loss
  • a notch in the eyelid
  • a chronic infection of the eyelid
  • broken skin that does not heal
  • a thickening of the eyelid
  • a nodule that continues to grow in size

Talk to your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms. Eyelid cancer is easiest to treat when it’s caught early.

By following these steps you can keep your eyelids and skin healthy.

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