By Sarah Garcia - January 29, 2020
A New Jersey woman recently made headlines when a beauty mark beneath her left eyelid turned out to be basal cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer.
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common cancer in the world. Eighty percent of BCCs occur in the head and neck region, of which 20% occur on the eyelids. Sometimes BCCs may take years to grow and may be pigmented, thus giving the appearance of a “beauty mark.”
The thin, delicate tissue of the eyelids is extra vulnerable to damage from the sun. Because of this, nonmelanoma skin cancer is common on and around the area, says Dr. Lucia Seminario-Vidal, a board-certified dermatologist at Moffitt Cancer Center.
Here’s what you should know about skin cancer of the eyelid and how to stay protected.
What are some symptoms of eyelid cancer?
A new growth or spreading mass on or around the eyelid is the most obvious and common symptom of eyelid cancer. However, other symptoms may include:
- Thickening or swelling of the skin of the eyelid
- An infection on the eyelid that does not go away on its own
- An area of broken skin on or around the eyelid that doesn’t heal
- A pigmented mass or area of skin that is changing or spreading
Are some people at greater risk of eyelid cancer?
Certain people may be at greater risk of developing eyelid cancer, including:
- Those with fair skin
- Those who have greater exposure to UV radiation, including those who live in areas with year-round sun, who spend more time outdoors or use a tanning bed
- Those with weakened immune systems or those who use certain medications
- Those who are above the age of 50
- Those with a history of sunburns
How can I protect myself from eyelid cancer?
According to Dr. Seminario-Vidal, protecting your eyes and the surrounding skin from the sun’s damaging UV rays is the best approach to preventing skin cancer. Here are her top tips:
- Wear sunglasses year-round whenever you are out, even on cloudy days. Sun damage to the eyes and eyelids can occur any time of year. Use extra caution near water, snow and sand as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun.
- Choose sunglasses that cover your eyes, eyelids and surrounding skin.Wraparound styles provide increased protection for the sides of the eyes and eyelids.
- Choose shades that block 99 to 100% of both UVA and UVB light.
- Keep your sunglasses in their case to protect them from scratches and scrapes that can decrease UV protection.
- Wear a hat with at least a three-inch brim and tightly woven fabric (no holes) to protect your face and the top of your head. Hats can block as much as half of all UV rays from your eyes and eyelids.
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. SPF 30 blocks 97% of the sun's UVB rays. Higher SPFs block slightly more, but no sunscreen blocks 100%.
- Stay in the shade when possible.
- Limit time in the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Avoid tanning beds.
How is eyelid cancer treated?
A multidisciplinary approach may be taken to treat skin cancer of the eyelid. Treatment may include a combination of surgery (to remove the tumor and sometimes surrounding tissue), radiation and chemotherapy (often topical).