Doctors in North Carolina and Alabama found groups of patients that have suffered from the same rare form of eye cancer. This is unusual because the disease affects just six of every one million people.
There is no known cure for this type of cancer.
High Incidences In Two Cities
Two small towns, Huntersville, North Carolina and Auburn, Alabama, are being hit with an unusually high number of cases of the extremely rare eye cancer. Auburn is a town of 63,000 and has 33 known cases of ocular melanoma. Huntersville has a population of 55,000 with 18 cases of eye cancer.
Of the 33 cases in Auburn, 31 of those people were former students at Auburn University. The only other connection between the cases is that the people live in Auburn between 1980 and the early 1990s. Of the 18 cases in Huntersville, they have all lived, worked, or spent time in the town since 2000.
Researchers are still trying to understand how there has been such high number of cases of ocular melanoma in these town towns. Oncologist Dr. Marlana Orloff says that most people don't know anyone with this type of cancer. Orloff treats ocular melanoma patients at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia.
Three patients from Auburn are all friends and all had to have their eyes removed due to ocular melanoma. There has been a Facebook group, Auburn Ocular Melanoma Page, started to spread awareness for the eye cancer.
Huntersville received a $100,000 in April 2017 to study the possible causes of the ocular melanoma in the residents of the town. An Alabama state senator requested $100,000 so the cause could be investigated in Auburn but the request was denied.
Ocular melanoma is the most common type of eye cancer in adults. There are around 2,500 adults diagnosed every year in the U.S. This type of cancer can be diagnosed at any age by it is usually diagnosed in patients with a median age of 55. It also tends to occur more in people with lightly pigmented skin.
This type of cancer develops in the cells that produce pigment. Pigments give color to the skin, hair, and eyes. It starts in the middle of three layers of the eye. This layer is called the uvea.
Ocular melanoma can be difficult to detect because it can form in a part of the eye that isn't visible when looking into the mirror. It typically doesn't have early signs or symptoms making it more difficult to detect without regular visits to an ophthalmologist.