Blood-stained tears-a red flag for malignancy?

Eye (Lond). 2023 Jun;37(8):1711-1716. doi: 10.1038/s41433-022-02224-x. Epub 2022 Sep 10.


Background: Blood-stained tears can indicate occult malignancy of the lacrimal drainage apparatus. This study reviews data on patients presenting with blood in their tears and the underlying cause for this rare symptom.

Methods: Patients presenting with blood in their tears, identified over a 20-year period, were retrospectively collected from a single tertiary ophthalmic hospital's database and analysed.

Results: 51 patients were identified, the majority female (58%) with a mean age of 55 years. Most cases were unilateral (96%) with blood originating from the nasolacrimal drainage system in 53%. The most common diagnosis for blood-stained tears was a lacrimal sac mucocele (n = 16) followed by a conjunctival vascular lesion (n = 4). Three patients had systemic haematological disorders. The rate of malignancy was 8% (n = 4), with 2 patients having lacrimal sac transitional cell carcinomas, one with a lacrimal sac plasmacytoma and the other with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia and bilateral orbital infiltration (with bilateral bloody tears). One patient had a lacrimal sac inverted papilloma, a premalignant lesion. Four patients had benign papillomas (of the lacrimal sac, conjunctiva and caruncle).

Conclusion: Haemolacria was a red flag for malignancy in 8% of patients (and tumours in 18% of patients). A thorough clinical examination including lid eversion identified a conjunctival, caruncle, eyelid or canalicular cause in 27% of cases.

MeSH terms

  • Eyelids / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lacrimal Apparatus Diseases* / diagnosis
  • Lacrimal Apparatus Diseases* / pathology
  • Lacrimal Apparatus* / pathology
  • Lacrimal Duct Obstruction* / pathology
  • Middle Aged
  • Nasolacrimal Duct* / pathology
  • Papilloma*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tears