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Common Risk Factors of Eyelid Cancer

Every year, more than 3 million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, and up to 10% of those cases involve eyelid cancer

The most common type of eyelid cancer is basal cell carcinoma, followed by squamous cell carcinoma. Other types of cancer are more rare. Without treatment, eyelid cancer can spread and cause even life-threatening complications.

At his three New York locations, leading ophthalmic plastic surgeon Rand Rodgers, MD, uses the most advanced surgical techniques to remove eyelid cancers, along with state-of-the-art reconstruction techniques to help your eyelid look and “work” the way it’s supposed to.

Eyelid cancer: Risk factors

Anyone can develop eyelid cancer, but some people are more prone to the lesions. Because eyelid cancer is a type of skin cancer, the risk factors that make us more prone to skin cancer also make us more prone to eyelid cancer.

Sun exposure

As with other types of skin cancer, the most common risk factor is exposure to sunlight. The sun’s UV rays cause changes deep inside the skin — changes that often don’t become apparent until we get older. 

Cumulative damage from years of sun exposure significantly increases the risk of all types of skin cancer, including eyelid cancer. 

And the eyelids may be even more susceptible to skin cancers than other areas of the face. Why? Because the rest of the face can be protected with an adequate layer of sunscreen. 

Most products aren’t designed for your eye area, and certainly not for the sensitive lid margins where eyelid cancers tend to appear. That leaves your eye area largely unprotected — which is why it’s so important to wear protective sunglasses and a brimmed hat on sunny days.

Older age

Like other skin cancers, eyelid cancer tends to be more common in older people. In part, that’s probably because by the time we’re older, we’ve had a lot more cumulative sun exposure. But it may also be due to other age-related changes, illnesses, medications, or even our genetics.


Certain medicines make our skin more prone to sun damage. If you’re using any type of medication or over-the-counter product — vitamins, supplements, or skin care products — it’s important to understand how those products may interact with sunlight. 

Even if a medicine doesn’t increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, it may still increase your risk of skin cancer. Several common medicines, like some blood pressure and erectile dysfunction drugs, have been associated with an increase in skin cancers in some people. 

The same is true of medicines that suppress your immune system.

Fair skin, light eyes

People with fair skin, fair hair, and light-colored eyes are also more prone to skin cancer. That’s because they tend to have less melanin in their skin, and melanin can provide some degree of protection that helps reduce the risks of UV exposure.

Personal or family history

You’re also at greater risk of developing eyelid cancer if you have a personal or family history of skin cancer. A history of actinic keratosis (a type of lesion that’s sometimes precancerous) or a history of serious sunburns are also risk factors for eyelid cancer. 

And of course, if you spend a lot of time outdoors, your risk of all types of skin cancer is increased, especially if you don’t use sunscreen on a regular basis.

Don’t ignore your eyelids

It’s important to remember that like most types of cancer, eyelid cancer can affect anyone, including people without risk factors. 

If you’ve noticed any type of change in your eyelids or your eyelashes, call one of our offices on the Upper East Side or in Great Neck or New Rochelle to schedule an appointment today.

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