18 People from Auburn University Diagnosed with Rare Eye Cancer

A rare eye cancer has affected 18 people at Auburn University. Coincidence? Doctors don’t know. That’s why they held a conference to try and figure out the pattern and be a support to those diagnosed and their families.

Uveal melanoma only affects about 2,000-2,500 people in the United States every year.

“There’s one patient in particular here that the first time she told us her two college roommates also had this rare cancer that peaked our interest. If she said my two college roommates had breast cancer, that’s a more common cancer. When you are talking about Uveal Melanoma, especially because the median age is 60 and this is affecting younger women, it causes you to think twice about whats going on,” said Dr. Marlana Orloff, Medical Oncologist at Thomas Jefferson University.

The patient she’s talking about is Ashley McCrary.

“I believe I’m a miracle standing here. Every doctor I’ve talked to says that the person that pointed it out saved your life because a lot of the time people don’t know until it’s too late. They go in and find they have liver cancer and then doctors try to find the source of that cancer and then it will be Ocular Melanoma,” said McCrary, who was diagnosed in 2012.

So, doctors from all over the country held a conference in Auburn to try to figure out if there’s a trend.

“We want to try to understand the patients’ stories. If we can put the patients’ stories together and see trends that might lead us somewhere,” said Dr. Orloff.

They hope this gathering would try to answer some questions the community has about this cancer.

“These are the top doctors for this disease and to have them here in Auburn, trying to investigate and bringing it out to the public and to find others who don’t know about this cluster, it’s important to find these people. The more we find, the more information we can get. We can put the puzzle pieces together and try to find a cause. When you find a cause, then of course if it’s fixable, you want to fix it and not expose others to it,” said Lori Lee, diagnosed with Ocular Melanoma in 2013.

All those diagnosed either were a student or worked at the University between 1980 and early 1990s.

Auburn University released a statement about this cluster saying:

“The university encourages spreading the word about uveal melanoma and all types of cancer and the need for early detection, and it welcomes the cancer researchers looking into this rare cancer. Our understanding is the scientific community has not yet established what causes it, and there is no known causal connection that would indicate any student or employee is in danger. The university would act immediately if it knew of any unsafe condition on campus. The health and safety of our students and employees are of utmost importance. Tests are available through optometrists or ophthalmologists for anyone wishing to be tested.”

But, Allyson Allred has a daughter now attending the university and living in the same dorm she did.
She said she’s not concerned if there is a link to the school.

“Is there a link possibly here in Auburn? We don’t know. We aren’t pointing fingers, I loved my Auburn experience. My daughter is living where I lived, but it would be wonderful to find a cause and link so we can keep people from getting it and closer to finding a cure,” said Allred who was diagnosed in 2001.

There can be no signs or symptoms to the cancer. For McCrary, two different people noticed a black spot on her eye. She also experienced some blurry vision, but she said since she was in her 40s, she thought that was because of her age. It was the same for Lee. Her optometrist noticed a black spot on her eye. And for Allred, she said she saw some flashes of light, so she went in to get checked. This is why they say it’s so important to get your annual eye exam and make sure you ask them to get your eyes dilated that way they can see your entire eye.

Doctors hope they can take the stories they heard from these patients and try to see if there is a connection or a cause to finally answer some of these questions about this rare cancer.

A support group has been formed on Facebook to link together those who have or family members of those with Ocular Melanoma it is:


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