Australian killer receives international focus

Wednesday 07 March 2018

The world’s leading minds on ocular melanoma say more must be done to help the 50 per cent of patients who die from melanoma of the eye in Australia.

The group of Australian and United States melanoma experts are presenting at ‘The Focus on Ocular Melanoma Networking Event’ this week, with the goal of improving treatment and survival rates for people diagnosed with the disease.

Mater Ophthalmologist Dr Bill Glasson says ocular melanoma is the most common type of cancer originating from the eye in adults.

“There are currently effective treatments for early stages of this disease but this does not change the outcome for metastatic disease. We can remove the eye, treat the melanoma with radiotherapy or laser and it may cure the tumour in the eye, but the disease could have already spread,” said Dr Glasson.

“Options for patients who develop advanced (metastatic) disease are limited. For that group of patients we have little to offer – once they develop the metastatic disease there is really no effective treatment.”

Dr Glasson says there is great frustration for both the patient and doctor treating ocular melanoma.

“When you look at the cells that make up the tumour, in about 80 per cent of cases we can see which patients will die from this and which patients won’t. We can identify the disease but we’re unable to treat it.”

This week’s meeting will bring together international experts with expertise in genomics of melanoma, including Professor Richard Carvajal and Dr Brian Marr, to work towards collaborative trials between Australian and US centres.

“Because of the rarity of these tumours, if we can harness the expertise of the world, we are far more likely to find a cure.”

Unlike skin melanoma, the survival rate of patients with ocular melanoma has not changed over the past 50 years.

“The key message is to ensure that you have your eyes checked regularly by your eye health care provider, who can photograph the back of the eye and detect these cancers early.”

Dr Glasson’s ultimate hope is for the development of a treatment option for patients with metastatic melanoma. 

“Hopefully in the future we can say to patients ‘yes, you have ocular melanoma but there is a well-trialled and evidence-based treatment for this to prevent metastatic disease’.”

Presented by Mater Research in partnership with The Queensland Melanoma Collaborative, the Focus on Ocular Melanoma Networking Event features leading Australian & US melanoma experts including: Professor Richard Carvajal (Director of Experimental Therapeutics and Director of the Melanoma Service at Columbia University Medical Centre), Dr Brian Marr (heads the Ophthalmic Oncology Service at the Harkness Eye Institute and is a collaborator on a Columbia University clinical trial for a first-of-its-kind, new class of drug treatment for uveal melanoma),  Dr Anthony Joshua (Garvan Institute of Medical Research & UNSW Sydney), Dr Bill Glasson (Mater Hospital Brisbane and the Terrace Eye Centre), Professor Mark Smithers (Princess Alexandra Hospital & The University of Queensland).