A rare form of cancer has baffled doctors when two separate groups from Huntsville, North Carolina, and Auburn, Alabama acquired the same disease.

A total of 18 patients were diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer called ocular melanoma in two separate locations. However, Alabama health officials said there is not enough evidence to call it an outbreak.

A Rare Cancer

Juliegh Green and Allison Allred, who both attended Auburn University, had one of their eyes removed. They first experienced mild flashes of light that occurred for about seven to 10 days. Their friend, Ashley McCrary, has same cancer and had black spots in her iris prior to diagnosis.

Dr. Marlana Orloff, an oncologist at Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, said that most patients diagnosed with ocular melanoma typically do not know each other. This incident, where friends have acquired the same type of cancer, makes the doctors wonder what is going on.

Ocular melanoma occurs in about six out of 1 million people in the world. There is currently no cure, and oncologists would recommend removal of the affected eye to prevent the cancer cells from metastasizing into other areas of the body.

McCrary started a Facebook page called Auburn Ocular Melanoma to help spread awareness of the disease. She said that so far, 36 people have sent her messages saying that they, too, attended Auburn University and have been diagnosed with ocular melanoma.

"Until we get more research into this, then we're not gonna get anywhere. We've got to have it so that we can start linking all of them together to try to find a cause, and then one day, hopefully, a cure," said Lori Lee, another patient whose cancer cells have metastasized to her liver.

Risk Factors For Developing Ocular Melanoma

While ocular melanoma is a rare form of cancer, it is the most common cancer in the eye among adults. About 2,500 adults are diagnosed with ocular melanoma each year, according to the Ocular Melanoma Foundation.

The malignant tumor can spread to other parts of the body, and half of the cases are fatal. Although there is no definitive cause associated with ocular melanoma, experts said exposure to harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun or sunbeds.

"Metastatic disease is universally fatal. This 50% mortality rate is unchanged despite treatment advances in treating the primary eye tumor. More research is needed urgently to improve patient outcomes," the Ocular Melanoma Foundation wrote on its website.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology reported that individuals with blue or green eyes are likely to have ocular melanoma, including aging people.

Genetic skin conditions like dysplastic nevus syndrome and abnormal skin pigmentation in the eyelids and uvea are some of the risk factors for developing ocular melanoma.

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