SARASOTA - Melanoma is a familiar word if you live on the Suncoast, but Ocular Melanoma starts in the eye and can only be detected in an eye exam.
When her eye doctor told her, boy, you've got a lot of junk in your eye, area resident Linda O’Brien thought he meant mascara or make-up.
Turns out he was talking about her eye-ball. Two hours later, she was diagnosed by an ophthalmologist with Ocular Melanoma and joined the ranks of only 6 in one million people that are diagnosed annually with this rare form of cancer. "I've had two skin melanomas over the years and I know how serious that can be."
O’Brien went into shock when she found out she had a melanoma in her eye. "I know what ocular means, and I know what melanoma means. I don’t understand these two together."
Dr. Katia Taba of the Eye Associates says the disease is often silent, you may not know that you have it, which is why so few are diagnosed. "The symptoms are related to the size of the melanoma, so if it’s big enough to give you blurry vision then you might have some symptoms."
O'Brien’s tumor was larger than a medium tumor. Had it gone undetected and grown, this is what may have happened. "You automatically lose your eye. The tumor is too big for treatment. Luckiy, I was able to go in for treatment and they inserted a radiation plaque implant into your eye."
The plaque is placed on the back of the eye and holds seeds with time released radiation designed to attack and shrink the tumor on the inside of the eye. "You keep that in you for one week. I couldn’t be around people because I was carrying radiation."
The treatment made her nauseous. She slept a lot, and during that week did experience a fair amount of pain. This is where she is today. "I’m five and a half years out from the treatment. Every 6 months we have to get checked to make sure it has not metastasized."
O’Brien says people with blue eyes and fair skin are more prone to ocular melanoma, but that she has debunked that theory with her olive complexion and brown eyes. And although rare, Dr. Taba says that the disease does affect more than 2,500 Americans each year, and she urges people to get their eyes checked regularly by an ophthalmologist so that they can catch it early if diagnosed.
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