Health Team

Sun Can Also Cause Cancer in Eyes

Posted August 22, 2007 6:20 p.m. EDT

People slather on sunscreen for protection from the hot summer sun, but doctors warn that melanoma, the most deadly type of skin cancer, can also appear in other parts of the body.

In rare cases, melanoma can grow inside the eye and spread to other organs. Doctors believe overexposure to ultraviolet rays may play a role in starting the cancer.

"Ocular melanoma develops in this very thin layer of cells that is within the wall of the eye called the uvea," said Duke ophthalmologist Dr. Prithvi Mruthyunjaya.

If the cancer spreads to other organs, such as the liver, it can still be treated, but a patient's prognosis is poor.

"The average survival of patients once it's spread beyond the eye is probably within the six to 12 month range," said Dr. Jared Gollob, an oncologist with Duke Medical Center.

Those statistics make Jake Sanok, a survivor of ocular melanoma, very happy that he went in for an early eye exam.

The vision in his left eye grew cloudy, making it seem he was "looking through a shower glass," Sanok said.

He went to Mruthyunjaya, thinking he had cataracts, macular degeneration or glaucoma. After determining Sanok had cancer, Mruthyunjaya sent Sanok to Gollob for treatment.

A radiation patch sewn to the back of the eye is a common treatment for melanoma, but Sanok said he and his doctors decided on a more drastic treatment.

"They removed my left eye ... because that's where all the melanoma was," Sanok.

Today, Sanok wears a false eye that moves with his natural eye. His vision has improved so much, Sanok said, that he can still captain his motorcycle club.

"The only thing I have to do when I'm driving and such is to turn left a little bit more," Sanok said. "I do have a reduction in my peripheral vision, but you adapt."