Eighteen patients in two southern states have been diagnosed with a rare form of eye cancer and the bizarre phenomenon has left doctors speechless. According to NBC News, the cancer, ocular melanoma, is typically found in only six out of every million people.
It Is Unclear If This Is a Cancer Cluster
All 18 people diagnosed with the cancer have ties to either Huntersville, North Carolina, or Auburn, Alabama. Three of the 18 are a group of friends who graduated from Auburn University.
Doctors are currently trying to assess whether this is a cancer cluster. At this point, it is unclear if there is a connection between the two groups.
What Is Ocular Melanoma?
Ocular melanoma is a kind of cancer that forms in the cells that gives the eyes their pigment.
While it is the most common form of eye cancer in adults, it is still extremely rare, according to WebMD. NBC reports that about 2,500 adults are diagnosed with ocular melanoma each year.
Speaking about the cancer and its recent occurrences, Marlana Orloff, an oncologist at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, says, “Most people don’t know anyone with this disease. We said, ‘Okay, these girls were in this location, they were all definitively diagnosed with this very rare cancer — what’s going on?’”
Dr. Jonathan Zager, a surgical oncologist and director of Regional Therapies in the Departments of Cutaneous Oncology and Sarcoma, tells NBC, “It’s impossible at this juncture to tell what causes this… Suspected contributors include BAP1 mutations and possibly a small link to sun exposure.”