Ocular Melanoma

You may have seen a recent article online about a young mother who was diagnosed with an often-fatal type of eye cancer called ocular melanoma (sometimes called uveal melanoma). It is an interesting read – with a happy ending – and you can find the article by clicking here.

To elaborate on ocular melanoma, it is a rare cancer (though the most common eye cancer in adults) and there are approximately 6 per million people per year in North America and Europe. Light-skinned and blue-eyed individuals are at greater risk, and the risk is 3-4x higher after 50 years of age. The melanoma is an aggressive form of cancer and commonly migrates (metastasizes) to a different part of the body, often the liver. Unfortunately, it is almost always too late for an individual once the cancer has spread; the median survival time after spreading to the liver is 5 months.  Other areas of the body that are common for it to spread are lungs, bones, and the skin. Interestingly, approximately 35% of all patients with ocular melanomas had no symptoms at the time of detection and were discovered during a routine complete eye examination. Treatment for ocular melanoma mainly includes removal of the eye (enucleation) or various forms of radiation therapy.

Your optometrist may detect a “freckle” at the back of the eye during your examination – known as a choroidal nevus. These are common (~5% of the Caucasian population) and almost always benign, but rarely they will progress to an ocular melanoma. It is especially important to follow up with your optometrist as they recommend to ensure your eyes remain healthy!

Example of ocular melanoma
Example of ocular melanoma .(Source: http://www.oculist.net/downaton502/prof/ebook/duanes/graphics/figures/v6/0700/001if.jpg)


Example of a choroidal nevus - a "freckle" at the back of the eye
Example of a choroidal nevus – a “freckle” at the back of the eye. (Source: http://waverleyeyecare.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/6a00d8354fadbd69e20120a5e393fd970c-pi.jpg)