Noncancerous (benign) and cancerous (malignant) growths can form on the eyelids. One of the more common growths is xanthelasma, a yellow-white, flat lump of accumulated fatty material. It is not a true tumor because it is not an abnormal growth of new tissue. Because xanthelasmas may indicate elevated cholesterol levels, especially in young people, a doctor may check the person's cholesterol level by taking a blood sample. Xanthelasmas do not need to be removed unless their appearance becomes bothersome.
Basal cell carcinoma (see Skin Cancers: Basal Cell Carcinoma) is a type of skin cancer that frequently occurs at the eyelid margins, at the inner corner of the eyes, and on the upper cheeks. A doctor bases the diagnosis on the results of a biopsy (removal of a tissue sample for examination under a microscope). The growth is usually removed surgically.
Although less common, the cancerous growths squamous cell carcinoma (see Skin Cancers: Squamous Cell Carcinoma), meibomian gland carcinoma (cancer of glands in the eyelid), and melanoma (see Skin Cancers: Melanoma) can develop on the eyelid. If a growth on the eyelid does not disappear after several weeks, a doctor may do a biopsy. The growth is usually removed surgically. Eyelid tumors sometimes mimic other eye disorders (such as blepharitis and chalazion), so a doctor usually biopsies any growths that do not respond to initial treatments.
Last full review/revision July 2012 by James Garrity, MD