Eyes on Ocular Melanoma

by Dec 26, 2018

Ocular melanoma is a rare form of cancer with a low incidence in the general population.  Despite being a rare disease, this form of melanoma is the most common intraocular tumor and can be very dangerous if left undetected and untreated.  Recently, ocular melanoma made headlines when an unusually high number of cases were reported in communities in both North Carolina and Alabama. Read on to learn more about the rare cancer and how to ensure this potentially harmful disease is not affecting you or your loved ones.


ocular melanoma


What is Ocular Melanoma?

Ocular melanoma can arise in the pigmented tissues of the eyes – the iris, the ciliary body, or the choroid.  These pigmented areas of the eye are collectively known as the uvea. Uveal tumors are caused by cancerous growth of melanocytes, which are pigmented cells found in the uvea and other pigmented tissues throughout the body.  If undetected, ocular melanoma has the potential to metastasize to other organs in the body; the most common site of metastasis is the liver, but the cancer may also spread to the lungs, bones, or skin. Once metastasis has occurred, the condition is more dangerous and carries significantly higher health risks.


Risks, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Ocular Melanoma

Certain risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing ocular melanoma.  Fair skin, light colored eyes, and increased age are proven risk factors for the condition – but it’s important to remember that this cancer is very rare, and the presence of one (or even multiple) risk factors is not a guarantee that the condition will develop.  If ocular melanoma does develop, it is important that the cancer is detected early. Comprehensive eye examinations, where an eye doctor evaluates the health of uveal tissues, are vital in diagnosing the condition so treatment can be initiated. The previous standard treatment for ocular melanoma was enucleation, which requires complete removal of the affected eye.  However, advancements in cancer treatments have yielded several other options, such as radiation and unique surgeries. These newer treatment possibilities are equally effective in eliminating the disease and preventing metastasis without requiring removal of the eye.


Melanoma Mystery

Over the past year, several sources noted that an abnormally high prevalence of this rare disease was identified in the communities of Huntersville, North Carolina and Auburn, Alabama.  More than 50 people with ties to one or both of these communities reported being diagnosed with ocular melanoma, and experts are still at a loss. No carcinogen, toxin, or other cause has been identified in either community that may be responsible for the abnormally high prevalence of the disease.


How Can I Protect My Eyes from Melanoma?

While there is no vaccination or guaranteed preventative steps in order to completely eliminate the risk of ocular melanoma, experts agree that certain precautionary steps can be helpful.  Wearing sunglasses or a brimmed hat can protect your eyes from harmful UV light. Maintain regular exercise and a healthy diet. And, as mentioned before, don’t skip your annual eye exam.


At Neal Eye Group, we put the health of your eyes first. Our eye doctors perform comprehensive eye exams and are happy to talk with you about potential problems with eye cancer and ocular melanoma for you and your family.  Call us at (610) 828-9701. We serve Conshohocken, Plymouth Meeting, Lafayette Hill, and Whitemarsh.

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