An unusual number of cases of ocular melanoma have been reported recently in Auburn, Alabama with over three dozen members of the community having been diagnosed with this rare form of cancer. This high incidence of a very rare disease in a secluded community has a lot of people wondering: what is going on?
Despite being a very uncommon form of cancer, ocular melanoma is the most common intraocular malignancy. The tumor results from a cancerous growth of pigmented cells in tissue of the eye, and if undetected can metastasize to other organs in the body, particularly the liver. These tumors are located in the back of the eye and are undetectable without a dilated retinal exam.
Why did this rare cancer occur at an abnormally high prevalence in this small community? Experts still aren’t sure. While there are certain risk factors for developing ocular melanoma, such as fair skin and light colored eyes, there is no known definitive cause. No carcinogen or toxin has been identified in this community which may be causative for the abnormally high number of cases. This geographic cluster of ocular melanoma still has experts scratching their heads. Auburn has been updating their website with news and information as it is gathered.
In the past, the foremost treatment for confirmed cases of ocular melanomas was enucleation, in which the affected eye is completely removed. With breakthroughs in cancer treatments, there are now several forms of radiation and surgeries that have proven to be equally effective in treating the disease and preventing metastasis to other organs. If left untreated, the spread of this form of cancer can be fatal.
As the cause of the high prevalence in this specific community of Auburn, Alabama is still a mystery, experts are at a loss for preventing a future cluster. However, eye care providers know certain lifestyle adaptations that may help reduce the risk of developing the disease. Protect your eyes from harmful UV rays by wearing sunglasses or a hat with a brim. Maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Yearly comprehensive eye exams, complete with a dilated retinal evaluation, can ensure that this potentially harmful disease is not affecting your eyes.