Ocular Melanoma — The Basics Melanoma is a type of cancer, most often of the skin. However, melanoma can also occur in the mucous membranes of the body (mucosal melanoma) and in the eye (ocular melanoma).
Types of Ocular Melanoma
Different types of melanoma of the eye include:
UVEAL MELANOMA The uveal tract is made up of three main sections: the choroid, the iris and the ciliary body. Uveal melanoma (UM) can form in any of these layers and is named for where it forms:
Ocular melanoma, or melanoma of the eye, is the most common primary eye tumor in adults. It is the second most common form of melanoma with around 2,000 new cases diagnosed each year in the United States. Like all forms of melanoma, OM begins in melanocytes — the cells that color the skin and eyes, and make moles.
• Choroidal melanoma begins in the layer of blood vessels — the choroid — beneath the retina.
• Iris melanoma occurs in the front, colored part of the eye.
• Ciliary melanoma occurs in the back part of the eye — in the ciliary body.
CONJUNCTIVAL MELANOMA The conjunctiva is the clear tissue that covers the white part of the eye, as well as the inside of the eyelids. Conjunctival melanoma is very rare. It often appears as a raised tumor and may contain little or even no pigment. Conjunctival melanoma most commonly occurs in the bulbar conjunctiva — the mucous membrane that covers the outer surface of the eyeball. Unlike other forms of ocular melanoma that spread most often to the liver, when conjunctival melanoma spreads, it most often spreads to the lymph nodes and lungs.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
So what do you do if you have just been diagnosed with OM?
Ocular Melanoma vs. Cutaneous Melanoma
RESEARCH. EDUCATE. ADVOCATE.
Take a breath and try to stay calm.
Cutaneous (skin) melanoma and ocular melanoma are distinct conditions that share the same name but are biologically and genetically very different from one another. Both forms of melanoma begin in melanocytes but, beyond that, there are many differences and only a few similarities: INCIDENCE Cutaneous and conjunctival melanoma have increased in frequency over the last several decades, but this trend is not evident in UM. Cutaneous melanoma occurs in approximately 153 per one million Americans each year. On the other hand, about six Americans per one million are diagnosed with melanoma of the eye each year. PROGNOSIS AND METASTASES The size of the tumor and the degree of invasion are major factors in determining the prognosis — or outcome — in melanoma. When the disease spreads, however, it spreads differently. Uveal melanoma tends to spread through the blood, while cutaneous and conjunctival melanoma tend to spread through the lymphatic system. UM metastasizes in about half of all cases and when it spreads, it spreads to the liver almost 90% of the time. Cutaneous and conjunctival melanoma are less predictable and can spread to the lymph nodes, liver, lungs, brain, bone and soft tissue.
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