Researchers are at a loss to explain why two towns in the US are experiencing unusually high levels of a rare type of cancer called ocular melanoma (OM).
Just five in 1 million people are diagnosed with this type of eye cancer every year. But for some reason, women in Huntersville, North Carolina and Auburn, Alabama are experiencing an abnormally high number of cases.
In Huntersville, a town of just 55,000, 18 people have been diagnosed with OM since 2000. In Auburn, a town of 63,000, 33 people who lived or worked in the town between 1980 and the early 1990s have been diagnosed, according to Heathline.
“When you’re talking about more common cancers like breast cancer or lung cancer, they’re certainly more common, but when you’re talking about a rare cancer, it certainly raises a red flag,” Dr Marlana Orloff from Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia told the website.
OM is a type of eye cancer that develops in cells of the eye that produce pigment. It’s more common in women than men, with symptoms including flashes of light in your vision, a bulging eye, and pain around the eye area.
It can be detected by having an eye examination or an ultrasound scan of your eye, although the exact causes of this rare cancer are unknown. It can be treated by inserting tiny radioactive plates into the eye to kill the cancerous cells, among other treatments. In extreme cases, the eye will need to be removed.
According to an article in the Charlotte Observer last year, environmental exposures and genetic traits have been put forward as possible explanations for the cases. A rise in awareness of the condition has allowed more cases to be diagnosed.
WLTZ said that Alabama has the highest rates of OM in the US. Researchers are looking into the possibility that there may be a genetic cause of the disease, which would help explain why these two locations have such high rates.
In Huntersville, $100,000 has been allocated to researchers to look into possible causes of OM. That same amount of funding was denied to a state senator in Alabama, but thanks to a Facebook group set up earlier this year, more people are becoming aware of the condition.
For now, it’s somewhat of a mystery. If you think you may have some of the symptoms of ocular melanoma, make sure you speak to your doctor.