New procedure is helping to heal ocular melanoma

Sally Martin knits every day.

"I make sweaters, vests, lots of mittens and hats,” she mentions

When Sally started losing vision in her right eye, her hobby became more difficult.

“When I began to lose close up vision in my eye,” Sally said, “I thought it was related to being over 50.”

Sally found out it was something much more serious. She was diagnosed with uveal melanoma.

Ocular melanoma, also called uveal melanoma, is a type of melanoma that targets the eye.

It affects about 2,000 people a year in the United States. Although rare, it can be deadly if not spotted early enough.

Some patients do not have any symptoms when they have melanoma of the eye. It depends on where the tumor is located.

Doctors typically do not catch the cancer until it has already spread, and in about half of all cases it has spread to other organs.

"It is not a minor or insignificant kind of cancer,” explains Dr. Arun Sing, Director of Ophthalmic Oncology at the Cole Eye Institute and Taussing Cancer Center in Cleveland.

Dr. Sing explains that patients with eye melanomas that have spread only have a 15% survival rate.

Sally's doctor caught hers before it spread, and this made her a candidate for a type of radiation known as brachytherapy.

During this procedure, a gold disc was stitched directly on Sally's eye.

"There are seeds within a disc, like a radioactive button,” explains Dr. Singh.

The method has a 95% success rate for patients whose tumors have not spread.

Sally wore the disc for three days in the hospital. During that time, the radioactive seeds targeted the cancer.

Sally still has a blind spot in her right eye, but she is happy to be cancer-free due to the treatment.

"I feel very fortunate that it was caught early,” Sally said, “and that my prognosis is very good."


REPORT: MB #3749

BACKGROUND: Ocular melanoma, also known as uveal melanoma or choroidal melanoma, is an eye cancer diagnosed in about 2,000 adults every year in the United States.

Like other melanomas, ocular melanoma starts in melanocytes, the cells which color the eye. It can involve any three areas of the eye: the iris, ciliary body, or the choroid.

The iris is the colored part of the eye, which opens and closes to allow more or less light into the eye.

The ciliary body is an eye muscle which controls the focus of the eye.

And the choroid is a layer of tissue where pictures are projected.

Those with iris melanomas generally have the best prognosis, and those with ciliary generally have the worst, even though it is the most common form of the disease. (Source: Melanoma Research Foundation)

CAUSES: Ocular melanoma tumors come from pigment cells that give color to the eyes. These types of cells, which also color skin and hair, are also responsible for forming moles.

The exact cause is unknown. But it is known that exposure to ultraviolet rays, or UV rays, increases the risk of developing melanoma of the skin. People with fair skin, red hair, and blue eyes are at the greatest risk for developing it.

Ocular Melanoma may be more common in those with atypical mole syndrome. This means they are at greater risk of developing melanoma of the skin and have over 100 moles on their body, some of which are abnormal in size. (Source:

NEW TECHNOLOGY: Brachytherapy or internal radiation can treat ocular melanoma using a small disc shape shield. The shield can contain Iodine-125 or Palladiu,-103, two radioactive properties.

The shield is attached to the outside surface of the eye and is left on the eye for a few days. The radioactive seeds go after the cancer.

The treatment has a 95 percent success rate for patients whose tumors haven't spread. Brachytherapy may cause fewer side effects than external beam radiation and the treatment time is usually shorter.

According to a JAMA study patients treated with brachytherapy had better vision when it came to driving and peripheral vision for up to two years following the treatment compared to enucleation, a surgical procedure involving removing part of the eye. (Sources: JAMA, Mayo Clinic)

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