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Find out about the latest UK research looking at eye cancer.

Genes and eye cancer


Researchers are studying tissue samples from different types of eye cancer to find out why some people develop them, and to find out how the cancers behave. This can help doctors to predict someone's outlook and in the future may help with treatment decisions.

Research into the genetics of eye cancer may also help them to develop new treatments in the future.

A study looking into the genetics of cancers of the eyelid 

This study also look into the genetics of cancer of the eyelid. It has now closed and we are waiting for the results.

Other studies

Researchers have found that up to half of uveal melanomas have a certain gene change (the loss of one copy of chromosome 3) that means the cancer is at higher risk of spreading.

Researchers have also found that many uveal melanomas have changes to 2 genes called GNAQ and GNA11. The proteins made by these genes are part of a signalling pathway inside cells (called MEK) that helps them grow.

From this, researchers are now looking into types of biological therapy that can target proteins in this pathway, to try to stop cancer cells growing.

There is also research looking into genes to find people who are at increased risk of developing eye cancer. They have recently found that a change (mutation) in the BAP1 gene can be passed down (inherited) in some families. This mutation increases the risk of uveal melanoma, melanoma of the skin and some other types of cancer. This is a rare inherited genetic mutation, and only affects a small number of people with eye melanoma.

Biological therapy

Doctors are looking into different types of biological therapies to treat eye cancers.

NITRO trial

The NITRO trial is looking at a type of biological therapy called ranibizumab for uveal melanoma. Ranibizumab is a monoclonal antibody. It works by targeting a protein on the cancer cell called vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF). The aims of the trial are to see how well ranibizumab works for uveal melanoma and what the side effects are. This trial has now closed and we are waiting for the results.


Another monoclonal antibody is bevacizumab. It stops the growth of new blood vessels. Doctors may use it to treat radiotherapy side effects to the eye. Researchers are looking at using it to treat advanced eye melanomas, either on its own or with chemotherapy.


Selumetinib is a type of biological therapy called a MEK inhibitor. MEK is a body protein that sends signals to cells telling them to divide and grow. Blocking MEK may also stop cancer cells growing.

In June 2013, a phase 2 American clinical trial found that selumetinib was more successful than temozolomide in treating patients with advanced uveal melanoma. These results are very promising. 

In the UK, a phase 2 trial called SelPec is now looking at selumetinib and paclitaxel chemotherapy for advanced uveal melanoma. The research team want to find out if the combination of drugs works better than selumetinib on its own. They also want to find the best way of giving these 2 drugs together.


Vorinostat is a type of cancer growth blocker called histone deacetylase inhibitor. Researchers are looking into this for advanced uveal melanoma.


Immunotherapy is a type of biological therapy that works by encouraging the immune system to attack cancer cells. Immunotherapy drugs include ipilimumab, nivolumab and pembrolizumab. Trials have shown these drugs to be helpful in some people with melanoma of the skin, and researchers hope they will also help treat eye melanoma.

You can find out more about biological therapy trials for eye cancer on our clinical trials database. Type eye cancer into the search box. If you want to see all the trials, tick the boxes for closed trials and trial results.


Chemotherapy does not generally work well for eye melanoma. However, researchers continue to look at different combinations of drugs to see if they help eye melanoma that has spread (advanced cancer). The chemotherapy drugs being looked at include gemcitabine, treosulfan, cisplatin and dacarbazine. Although results from early trials were promising, larger trial results have not been as good. 

Researchers continue to look at different combinations of chemotherapy drugs alongside biological therapies such as selumetinib.

Last reviewed: 
11 Jul 2015
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    Cancer Discovery. 2013 July; 3(7):OF8. 

  • Cisplatin, gemcitabine and treosulfan is effective in chemotherapy-pretreated relapsed stage IV uveal melanoma patients

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