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Health Beat: Ocular melanoma: Saving lives, saving eyes

Published On: Mar 24 2014 12:34:52 PM EDT   Updated On: Mar 24 2014 05:37:36 PM EDT

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


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 a deadly if it isn’t spotted early enough. Now, there’s a way to treat patients that’s saving lives and saving eyes.

"I make sweaters, vests, a lot of mittens and hats," said Sally Martin, who knits every day.


But when she started losing vision in her right eye, Martin's hobby became more difficult.

"I thought it was related to being over 50 and you lose some close-up vision," said Martin, who found out it was something much more serious – uveal melanoma.

"It is not a minor or an insignificant kind of cancer," said Dr. Arun Singh, director of ophthalmic oncology, Cole Eye Institute and Taussing Cancer Center, The Cleveland Clinic.

Patients with eye melanomas that have spread have only a 15 percent survival rate.

Martin’s doctor caught hers before it spread, so she was a candidate for a type of radiation known as brachytherapy. A gold disc was stitched directly on Martin’s eye.

"They are seeds within a disc like a radioactive button," Singh said.

Martin wore the disc for three days in the hospital. During that time, the radioactive seeds targeted the cancer. She still has a blind spot in her right eye, but she's happy to be cancer-free.

"I feel very fortunate that it was caught early, and that my prognosis is very good," explained Martin, who can now focus on making more of her favorite things. 

The method has a 95 percent success rate for patients whose tumors haven't spread. Some patients do not have any symptoms when they have melanoma of the eye. It depends on where the tumor is located. Those patients typically do not catch the cancer until it has already spread. It spreads to other organs in the body in about half of all cases.

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