by Jeffrey White, M.D., Oculoplastic Surgeon, Carolina Eye Associates

You probably know that skin cancer can affect different parts of your skin. But did you know skin cancer can also occur on your eyelid?

Known as an eyelid cancer, this type of tumor usually involves the skin or glands of the eyelid. Strong bony sockets called orbits encase and safeguard your eyes. The thin tissue surrounding them, including your upper and lower eyelids, is extremely vulnerable to damage from the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Because of that nonmelanoma skin cancers on and around the eyelids are common.

The most prevalent types of eyelid tumors are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Other less common types are sebaceous carcinoma, Merkel cell carcinoma and melanoma. 

The usual sign of an eyelid tumor is a new growth on the eyelid. Many people have benign (non-cancerous) growths, but malignant (cancerous) growths are characterized by asymmetry, bleeding and ulceration. An eyelid tumor is usually painless. Also, there is often eyelash loss and sometimes a “notch” in the eyelid. People with fair skin (people with blue eyes and red or blonde hair) are more likely to develop an eyelid cancer than others.

Currently, the standard treatment is complete surgical removal of the eyelid tumor followed by reconstruction. Surgery is performed by a specially trained dermatologist, called a Mohs surgeon.  The procedure is done in stages, while the patient waits between each stage. After removing a layer of tissue, the Mohs surgeon examines the tumor margins under a microscope; if cancerous cells remain, the surgeon removes another layer of tissue from the location and reviews it under the microscope. This process is repeated until no cancer cells remain. This technique has very high cure rates, spares the greatest amount of healthy tissue and leaves the smallest scar possible.

Repair and reconstruction of the eyelid back to its normal function and appearance after surgery, known as Mohs repair, is done by an oculoplastic surgeon (an ophthalmologist who specializes in plastic surgery around the eyes). If you’ve been diagnosed with eyelid cancer, don’t wait to get treatment. The quicker an eyelid tumor is treated, the smaller the area of involvement and the easier the reconstruction. Eyelid cancer treatment is very successful. 

Better yet, protect yourself from the sun. Wear a wide brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses. Using sunscreen is a must if you are going to be out in the sun for a long period of time – just be sure to apply it around your eyes.

Jeffrey White, M.D. is an oculoplastic surgeon, an ophthalmologist who specializes in plastic and reconstructive surgery of the periorbital and facial tissues including the eyelids, eyebrows, forehead, cheeks, orbit (bony cavity around the eye), and lacrimal (tear) system. For more information on Moh’s Repair and other services offered at Carolina Eye call (800) 733-5357 or visit