Eye Cancer Cases in North Carolina and Alabama Baffle Physicians


Ocular melanomaThe Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson Health (SKCC)’s renowned uveal, or ocular, melanoma program sees patients from across the country and around the world. SKCC medical oncologists who specialize in uveal melanoma work closely with a team from nearby Wills Eye Hospital to treat patients with primary ocular tumors, as well as those whose uveal melanoma has metastasized (when the primary cancer spreads in uveal melanoma, it usually metastasizes to the liver).

Uveal melanoma is quite rare: only about 2,500 cases are diagnosed in the United States each year. However, while treating a patient from Alabama, SKCC medical oncologist Marlana Orloff, MD, was very surprised to hear that her patient had two friends with whom she graduated from Auburn University in Alabama and were also diagnosed with uveal melanoma.

“Most people don’t know anyone with this disease,” Orloff told CBS News in a recent interview. “We said, ‘OK, these girls were in this location, they were all definitely diagnosed with this very rare cancer – what’s going on?”

So far, there are about three dozen people identified who were diagnosed with uveal melanoma and were linked to Auburn, as well as a second group of 18 people with a connection to the small town of Huntersville, N.C. Orloff, Takami Sato, MD, PhD, Director of the Metastatic Uveal Melanoma Program at SKCC, and colleagues have been treating some of the patients and consulting with health officials in Alabama and North Carolina about these cases.

In addition to treating patients, SKCC oncologists and scientists study uveal melanoma in the clinic and the laboratory. They are currently working to develop new treatments through clinical trials and translational research.

Below are links to some of the recent media coverage about uveal melanoma and SKCC from national outlets:

Washington Post: A rare eye cancer showed up in 3 friends. Drs want to know if cases are connected

Fortune: A Rare Eye Cancer Has Started to Appear in 2 States

CNN: Group of Rare Eye Cancer Cases Baffles Experts

BuzzFeed: Mysterious Cases of a Rare Eye Cancer Affecting Young Women in Two Small Towns

Newsweek: What is ocular melanoma? Doctors find extremely rare cancer in groups across two states

The Independent: Rare Eye Cancer Detected in 18 People from Two Small Communities

People magazine: 36 Auburn University Graduates Develop Rare Eye Cancer Years Apart

WebMD: Doctors Fret over Cases of Rare Eye Cancer

FOX News: Dozens Develop Rare Eye Cancer in a Case That’s Baffling Doctors

NPR: Doctors Stumped By Rare Eye Cancer Cases In North Carolina, Alabama