Eyelids take up such a small amount of skin surface that most people don’t connect eyelids with skin cancer. Surprisingly, skin cancers on this small space make up about 10 percent of all basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas and melanomas according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. The large majority of skin cancer on the eyelid is basal cell carcinoma - about 90 percent - with the second largest type being squamous cell carcinoma. About one percent of eyelid cancer is melanoma.
When putting on sunscreen, eyelids are often ignored. You might try to avoid getting the sunscreen in your eyes or feel that since you wear sunglasses, you don’t need to apply it around the eyes. But because eyelids have thin, delicate skin, they are prone to cancer. Untreated, eyelid cancer can lead to blindness or spread into the nasal and orbital cavities.
Signs and Symptoms
Tumors on the eyelids often grow under the surface of the skin, making it difficult to detect. Some of the signs you might notice are:
- An unexplained loss of eyelashes
- Red eye or inflammation of the eyelids that doesn’t go away or doesn’t respond to treatment
- A small bump that doesn’t go away
- Lesions or growths with irregular borders
In most cases, lesions on the eyelid are painless. They may look similar to a scar. They may grow or change shape. They may bleed or crust. They do not clear up with treatment.
The most effective treatment for eyelid cancer is Moh’s surgery, which involves removing thin layers of tissue until the remaining tissue no longer shows any signs of cancer. This type of surgery removes the least amount of tissue. Because of the location and the possibility of blindness, it is important to have a specialist who is familiar with eyelid cancer treat it.
Using sunscreen and wearing sunglasses are the best prevention measures. Look for eye creams that contain sunscreen with at least SPF of 15. Some, such as Clarins or Clinique, offer sunscreen protection of 30 or above. These creams are specially formulated to be worn around the eyes.
Sunglasses are important. You want to look for sunglasses that provide UV protection. Check to make sure they offer protection from both UVA and UVB rays. Sunglasses should be worn year round, not just in the summer. Make sure the lens are large enough to cover your entire eye area.
Hats also provide excellent protection from the suns rays. The Skin Cancer Foundation suggests wearing hats with at least a 3 inch brim; these hats will block as much as half of the sun’s rays from reaching your eyes.
"Cancers of the Eyelid," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, MD Anderson Cancer Center
"Detecting and Preventing Eyelid Skin Cancer," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, The Skin Cancer Foundation
"The Eyelids: Highly Susceptible to Skin Cancer," Date Unknown, Emily Tierney, M.D. and C. William Hanke, M.D., MPH, Skin Cancer Foundation
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.