I thought melanoma was skin cancer. How can it be in my eye?

By: Dr. Thomas Incledon

I thought melanoma was skin cancer. How can it be in my eye?

Technically, melanoma is skin cancer and is the parent category for ocular melanoma. Melanoma of all kinds is caused by sun damage in the cells and occurs most frequently in the pigment-producing cells. When you think about the eye, you don’t often think about the outer skin or pigment-producing parts of the eye developing melanoma, but that is exactly what happens in cases of ocular melanoma.

Ocular melanoma, also called eye melanoma, occurs in less than 2,500 cases in the United States per year. So, while it is very rare, it is fatal in half of the diagnosed cases. Patients with this diagnosis are often given a grim prognosis, but there are treatment options. Dr. Tom Incledon, Founder & CEO of Causenta urges patients to judge treatment centers on results they can share and not on a prestigious name or fancy building. “I have three friends who have lost family members to ocular melanoma because they had surgery at one of these centers and were then told to wait to see what would happen,” says Incledon. “They are dead now because cancer cells can survive surgery and then when the cells metastasize, the cancer is harder to treat.”

Melanoma can occur anywhere in the body, including places you cannot see. This is often the case with ocular melanoma; it may occur in a place that you actually cannot see – inside the eye. The other challenge is that symptoms may not have obvious signs early on, so Incledon recommends getting regular eye exams.

Patients who have been diagnosed with ocular melanoma report the following symptoms:

  • Flashes of dust in their vision
  • Floaters
  • Growing dark spot on the iris (colored part) of the eye
  • Change in the shape of the pupil (dark circle in the middle of the eye)
  • Poor or blurry vision in one eye
  • Loss of peripheral vision in one eye

One way to determine if you are having vision concerns that might be related to ocular melanoma is to know which eye is dominant for you. Often, it will be the eye that correlates to your dominant hand, but not always. An easy way to determine this at home is to print an eye chart of the Internet and put it on the wall. Then, take 20 steps backward. Look at the E with both eyes. Next, make a circle with your hands around one eye and put it as close to your face as possible. If you can see the E through that eye while the other eye is closed, it’s the dominant eye. Try it on both sides.

It is also important to be aware of risk factors for ocular melanoma. People with light eye color such as blue or green eyes have a higher risk of developing ocular melanoma. It is also more common in Caucasian people than in those of other ethnicities. Older age, as with most cancers, increases your risk of developing ocular melanoma; one way to combat this is to get plenty of sleep, drink water, exercise, and eat well. Certain skin conditions that cause abnormal moles or irregular skin pigmentation are related to cases of ocular melanoma. Exposure to UV light from staring into the sun or using tanning beds without protective gear can also increase your chance of developing ocular melanoma. Finally, there are certain genetic mutations, which are usually recessive, that can increase your likelihood of developing this type of cancer.  

If you are interested in learning more about ocular melanoma and treatment options with Causenta, contact us for a complimentary 30-minute consultation today.

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