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BACKGROUND: Periocular melanoma is a rare but often deadly malignancy that arises in the uvea (commonest origin), conjunctiva or orbit (rarest primary site). Melanoma accounts for 5-10% of metastatic/secondary orbital malignancies, but only a tiny proportion of primary orbital neoplasia. Primary orbital melanoma (POM) is exceedingly rare, with approximately 50 cases reported to date. METHODS: All patients seen in the orbital unit at a tertiary referral hospital (1991-2016) with a biopsy-proven diagnosis of POM were identified from a diagnostic database and were studied. The case notes, imaging, surgical approach, and histology were reviewed. RESULTS: Thirteen patients (five male; 38%) presented with isolated malignant melanoma of the orbit, for which no other primary site was identified at presentation or during an average follow-up of 44 months (median 22; range 0-13 years). The patients presented between the ages of 40 and 84 years (mean 55.5; median 48 years) and typically gave a short history of rapidly increasing proptosis and eyelid swelling. On the basis of history, a malignant lesion was suspected in most patients and all underwent incisional biopsy, with debulking of the mass in 10 (77%) patients, and skin-sparing exenteration in 3/13 (23%). Ten patients underwent orbital radiotherapy and the survival to date ranged from 9 months to 14 years (mean 55 months; median 23 months); two patients received solely palliative care for widespread disease and one patient refused orbital radiotherapy. Five of the 13 (38%) patients died from the disease. DISCUSSION: POM is a very rare malignancy, but clinical analysis of this cohort gives insight into disease presentation and prognosis. The tumor typically presents with a rapidly progressive, well-defined mass that is, in some cases, amenable to macroscopically intact excision. Unusual for malignant melanoma, some of these patients can show an unusually long period of quiescent disease after surgical debulking and radiotherapy.

Original publication




Journal article


Front Oncol

Publication Date





melanoma, ocular melanoma, orbital malignancy, orbital surgery, primary orbital melanoma