Imagine being diagnosed with eye cancer but your doctor can't tell whether you have the aggressive type that will swiftly spread, causing blindness and death in as early as a year.
A new procedure at UCLA's Jules Stein Eye Institute could reveal this valuable information to ocular melanoma patients and their physicians, providing a clear basis for making treatment and lifestyle choices. Researchers have pioneered the first technique to biopsy tissue from the living eye in order to predict which tumors possess high metastatic risk. The Nov. 15 online edition of the journal Ophthalmology reports the findings, which urge a new treatment strategy for physicians and offer huge medical and psychological benefits to patients.
"For the first time, we have demonstrated that it's safe and feasible to perform a biopsy in the living eye to obtain clear results about whether a tumor has metastatic potential or not," explained Dr. Tara Young, assistant professor of ophthalmology at UCLA's Jules Stein Eye Institute and a Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center researcher. "Identifying patients at high risk for metastasis is an important first step toward reducing the death rate of this cancer, which kills nearly half of its patients."
Ocular melanoma attacks the pigment cells in the retina. Earlier studies discovered that patients who are missing one copy of chromosome 3 in their tumor tissue are more likely to have highly aggressive cancers. Half of these patients die within five years, due to metastasis to the liver and other organs.
Using this genetic marker as the starting point for their research, UCLA scientists studied a group of patients who had been newly diagnosed with ocular melanoma. Each patient was scheduled for a standard eye surgery to temporarily implant a small disc designed to shrink the tumor with radiation and hopefully save the eye.