Simple Blood Test Can Detect Deadly Eye Melanoma

While melanoma is a type of cancer that develops in the cells that produce melanin, like the pigment that gives your skin its colour, it can also develop in eyes.

Also called ocular melanoma, eyes have melanin-producing cells than can develop cancer in the eye.

A simple blood test by a GP could soon become the latest monitoring tool for the early detection of eye melanoma, according to a discovery from Queensland scientists.

University of Queensland (UQ) researchers have discovered markers in the blood that can differentiate between a benign mole and a melanoma.

Their study,  published in the latest edition of Translational Vision Science & Technology, was also able to identify if cancer has spread to other areas of the body.

And the experts found that a blood test could monitor very early signs of the disease.



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"It could become a matter of routine when a person gets their eye test for vision, the optometrists also scan the back of the eye. At this point they could also get a blood test,"  UQ Diamantina Institute’s Dr Mitchell Stark told 10 daily.

Stark said the blood test can tell the difference between a benign mole located at the back of the eye and melanoma in the eye.

“The test also has the potential to show if the melanoma has metastasised and spread to other areas of the body.

The outcomes are poor for people with melanoma in their eye if their cancer spreads to the liver."

It's a poorly researched area across the globe, but Australian experts have been leading the way.



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This study is a progression of research conducted by Dr Stark where the panel of biomarkers was first developed and used to detect melanoma on the skin.

Yes it's a rare cancer, but you want to catch it early.

"If it's left too late it can get bigger in the eye and the only way to treat some cases is to remove the eye," he said.

Doctors don’t really know why eye cancer develops, but the following things can increase your risk:

  • having lighter-coloured eyes
  • growing older
  • having a lot of moles on your skin
  • having a close relative who has had eye cancer

"Unlike skin melanoma, the survival rate of patients with uveal melanoma – a form of ocular melanoma – has not changed over the last 35 years," according to the Melanoma Institute of Australia.

Dr Stark said with further development, the blood test had the potential to be used as a monitoring tool in conjunction with optometrists, GPs, and specialists.

Image: Getty Images

Queensland Ocular Oncology Service Director and eye specialist Dr Bill Glasson said the test would be extremely helpful in clinical practice.

“These research findings are exciting for our patients with ocular tumours,” Dr Glasson said.

Stark said the next step is to secure funding for clinical trials on humans.

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