ADPH reviews ocular melanoma cases associated with Auburn University


The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) on Friday announced they are working in conjunction with Auburn University to review cases of uveal melanoma among 35 former Auburn students and employees in Alabama, following four of the women, who were friends while attending Auburn, making national news headlines last week.

Uveal melanoma, often referred to by the media and in the general population as ocular melanoma, is a particularly rare form of eye cancer involving the iris, ciliary body, or choroid, collectively referred to as the uvea. It typically affects only six out of every one million people — but for an unexplained reason, it’s been diagnosed in staggering number of graduates from Auburn University.

Auburn officials say ADPH claims it’s too early to “determine that a cancer cluster exists in the area.”

“While we have been informed by ADPH officials that it would be premature to determine that a cancer cluster exists in the area, we are cooperating fully with their work. The health and safety of our students, employees and alumni are of the utmost importance,” said Auburn officials.

uveal_melanomaAccording to a statement released by Auburn, “Auburn University is in close collaboration with ADPH as ADPH currently reviews reports of area uveal melanoma cases for validation purposes. Through this process, Auburn will be actively involved with verifying whether cases of uveal melanoma validated by ADPH also have connections to the university. Upon completion of the data collection and verification stage, ADPH will deem whether or not a cluster of cases exists and that will guide next steps as to any future state or federal agency involvement.”

“We have met with researchers and Auburn officials and are offering assistance,” Justin George, director of cancer epidemiology, ADPH Alabama Statewide Cancer Registry, said.

A cancer survivor and advocate has provided a list of 35 names of individuals that have self reported to have attended or worked at Auburn and developed uveal melanoma. The ADPH is reviewing medical information for these individuals and will share the results with the research group and Auburn officials.

According to the ADPH, findings as of May 3, 2018, are as follows:

  • From 2006 through 2015, there were 316 cases of uveal melanoma among Alabama residents for an average of 31.6 new cases each year.
  • The number of cases in Alabama fluctuates annually, and a 10-year incidence rate trend analysis showed no significant change in the incidence rate over this time period.
  • Numbers will not be reported until the review is completed and validated.

Health care professionals advise those who may have concerns they have uveal melanoma to schedule an eye exam with an optometrist or ophthalmologist.