Focusing on eye melanoma

March 11, 2013 10:12:48 AM PDT
Did you know melanoma can affect the eyes? In fact, it's the most common and most dangerous form of eye cancer in adults. Half the time it spreads and if that happens it's almost 100 percent fatal. Now, a new breakthrough therapy gives patients more time.

Molly Larkin's kids are the focus of her life, but eye cancer could keep her from watching them grow up.

"I just, I just, don't dwell on the what-ifs," Molly Larkin, uveal melanoma patient, told Ivanhoe.

Molly was diagnosed with ocular melanoma ten years ago. She was treated and thought she was in the clear.

"By the time we got to 8 years I wasn't too worried about it anymore," Larkin said.

However, a routine exam showed molly was among the 50 percent of patients in whom the fatal cancer spreads to the liver. Once that happens, Dr. Carin Gonsalves says the outlook is grim.

"Their overall survival is less than 6 months with a one year survival of about 13%," Carin F. Gonsalves, MD, at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, told Ivanhoe.

Now a new therapy, immunoembolization, could improve those odds. Doctors inject an immune system booster directly into the arteries that supply blood to tumors in the liver. The booster blocks blood flow and starves the tumor.

"This GM-CSF stimulates the body's immune system to recognize the tumor as foreign and therefore kill it," Dr. Gonsalves stated.

The technique is prolonging life expectancy from less than six months without treatment to an average of two years, time this mom is thankful for.

Thomas Jefferson University Hospital developed the therapy and is the only hospital in the world offering it. The injection is not a cure. Patients come in once a month for the treatment and must stay overnight for observation. Because of the aggressive nature of this cancer, patients often require treatment for life.