Melanoma: Diagnosis & Treatment of Ocular Melanoma

Pictured: David Abramson David Abramson is Chief of Memorial Sloan Kettering's Ophthalmic Oncology Service, the only service of its kind in a United States cancer hospital.

Diagnosis

Many eye conditions are often confused with ocular melanoma, so accurate diagnosis is essential. An ophthalmologist may be the first to detect ocular melanoma during a routine eye examination through a dilated pupil. However, because ocular melanoma is rare, most ophthalmologists only see a few cases during their professional careers.

Memorial Sloan Kettering's ophthalmic oncologists are experts in diagnosing and treating this disease. We diagnose ocular melanoma after performing a complete ophthalmic exam and reviewing results from diagnostic imaging tests, which can include:

  • Digital photography — Our experts take images of the outside and inside of the eye to view the eye tissues and circulation. Our advanced photography methods include autofluorescent photography and fluorescein angiography.
  • Ultrasound imaging — We study results from high-frequency one- and two-dimensional ultrasound imaging, called A and B scan ultrasonography, to view measurements of the eye and of any suspected tumors.
  • Optical coherence tomography — We can also identify tumors through OCT, which maps eye tissues using reflected light.

Treatment

Treatment for melanoma of the eye depends on the size, location, and stage of the tumor (whether and how far it has spread). You may have surgery to remove the tumor or, in advanced cases, to remove your eye. Other treatments include radiation therapy, laser therapy, chemotherapy applied to the surface of the eye, or therapy using targeted molecules.

At Memorial Sloan Kettering, we have more than 35 years of experience using a form of radiation therapy called brachytherapy, in which radioactive material is inserted directly into the eye to target the tumor. We have an interdisciplinary team of ophthalmic oncologists, radiation oncologists, radiation physicists, and nurses who guide patients through this treatment.

Our experts have also participated in several studies involving brachytherapy sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. This research has shown that brachytherapy is as effective as surgically removing the eye in saving the lives of people with medium-size ocular melanoma tumors.(1)

In some cases, ocular melanoma spreads beyond the eye to other parts of the body, a condition known as metastatic ocular melanoma. If you have this serious condition, you may be eligible to receive treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering that is not widely available elsewhere by participating in a clinical trial.