What research is going on into eye cancer?

Eye cancer is rare and there are different types. It is difficult to do research and carry out trials in a rare type of cancer as there may not be enough people with the same cancer type to join a trial. In this situation, researchers and doctors might organise a trial that recruits people from different countries.

The most common type of eye cancer in adults is uveal melanoma. The uvea is the middle tissue layer of the eyeball. Other types include lymphoma of the eye.

Uveal melanoma

Genes and eye cancer

Researchers in the PROGENOM study are looking at blood and tissue samples taken from people with uveal melanoma.  The researchers want to find genes and proteins that behave abnormally in this disease. This information could help doctors in several ways. For example, it could help to predict those people whose cancer is likely to spread. And it could help to develop ideas for new treatments. 

Targeted cancer drugs

There are many different types of targeted drug. Doctors think that some of these might benefit people with advanced uveal melanoma.

Selumetinib is a type of targeted drug called a MEK inhibitor. MEK is a body protein that sends signals to cells telling them to divide and grow. Blocking MEK may 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.

Trials in America are looking at other targeted drugs for uveal melanoma that has spread. Examples include:

  • bevacizumab (Avastin) – a monoclonal antibody that stops the growth of new blood vessels
  • vorinostat – a cancer growth blocker


Immunotherapy is a treatment that works by encouraging the immune system to attack cancer cells. A type of immunotherapy are drugs called checkpoint inhibitors. Examples include ipilimumab, nivolumab and pembrolizumab. Trials have shown these drugs to be helpful in some people with melanoma of the skin (cutaneous melanoma). Researchers hope they will also help treat eye melanoma that has spread.

One trial is looking at a new type of immunotherapy for uveal melanoma that has spread. This is called IMCgp100, it works by stimulating certain immune system cells called T cells to find and kill the cancer. Two different trials are recruiting people worldwide, including centres in the UK. People need to test positive for a gene called HLA-A*0201. The trial team check for this by doing a blood test.


Chemotherapy does not generally work well for eye melanoma. Researchers have looked at different combinations of drugs to see if they help eye melanoma that has spread (advanced cancer). For example, trials have looked at 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 targeted drugs. An example is the use of selumetinib with chemotherapy in the SelPac trial.

Treatment into the liver

Uveal melanoma can spread to the liver in some people. If surgery is not an option, it is sometimes possible to have treatment directly into the liver. The doctor puts a small tube (catheter) into the main artery leading to your liver. Then a treatment such as chemotherapy is delivered through the tube into the liver where they treat the cancer.

A study looking into the genetics of cancers of the eyelid 

One study is collecting tissue samples from people with certain types of skin cancer on or near the eyelid. The study team hope to gain valuable information by looking at the genes in these tissue samples. For example, they want to find out why some people’s cancer continues to grow or comes back after treatment. This information might also help develop new treatments for cancer of the eyelid.

Lymphoma of the eye

There 2 main types of lymphoma are Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL). Most lymphomas of the eye are NHL and are treated as an NHL. For suitable trials you would need to search our database under your type of lymphoma.

How do I find a clinical trial?

There may not always be a trial that is suitable for you. Unfortunately, there are less trials available for those with a rare type of cancer. Talk to your eye specialist or specialist nurse if you are interested in taking part in a trial. They may know of a trial that is running in your hospital, or another eye specialist hospital.

You can search our clinical trials database. This lists those trials that we are aware of and have permission to include on the site. Use the drop down menu to find eye cancer, or type eye cancer into the search box. If you want to see all the trials, tick the boxes for closed trials and trial results.

Last reviewed: 
18 Nov 2021
Next review due: 
18 Nov 2024
  • Cancer Research UK clinical trials database
    Accessed November 2021

  • Treatment of uveal melanoma: where are we now?
    J Yang and others
    Therapeutic Advances in Medical Oncology. 2018. Volume 10, Pages 1 to 17

  • Ocular oncology: advances in retinoblastoma, uveal melanoma and conjunctival melanoma
    M Vasalaki and others
    British medical bulletin, 2017. Voume 121, Issue 1, Pages 107 to 119

  • Latest developments in the biology and management of uveal melanoma

    S Patel

    Current Oncology Reports, 2013. Volume 15, Issue 6. Pages 509-16

  • Systemic treatment of metastatic uveal melanoma: review of literature and future perspectives

    K Buder and others

    Cancer Medicine, 2013. Volume 2, Issue 5, Pages 674–686

  • The information on this page is based on literature searches and specialist checking. We used many references and there are too many to list here. Please contact patientinformation@cancer.org.uk with details of the particular issue you are interested in if you need additional references for this information.

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