Central Queensland records highest rate of eye melanoma in the state

01 December 2021

Central Queensland has the highest rate of eye melanoma in the state' according to a recent study conducted by CQUniversity' the University of Queensland and University of Sydney.

Led by CQUniversity PhD student Melissa Chalada' the findings were recently published in the scientific journal Cancers.

The study describes the incidence of eye melanoma in Queensland and Victoria and revealed that non-metropolitan areas had significantly more eye melanoma than in the cities.

"The other interesting finding is that people in Queensland are more at-risk of developing eye melanoma than those in Victoria and are more likely to get it younger'" senior author and CQUniversity lecturer and cancer researcher' Dr Jason Steel said.

Dr Steel said Uveal melanoma (UM) was a rare form of melanoma originating in the eye.

"Unlike cutaneous melanoma (skin melanoma)' the role of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) as a cause of UM is still unresolved'" he explained.

"This study and a previous genetic screening study by the CQU-led team' provides evidence that UV may play a role in causing some UM'" he said.

"UM has a high incidence in Australia. This study found that Queensland has a 21 per cent higher incidence of UM than Victoria and' in fact' has one of the highest incidences in the world."

Dr Steel said the aim of the study was to determine and compare UM age-standardised incidence rate (ASRs) in two geographically disparate eastern states - Queensland and Victoria - by using cancer registry data that was obtained from 2001 to 2013.

"When looking at the incidence rate we found that Central Queensland has a 74 per cent greater incidence of UM than in Victoria when controlling for age' sex' and year of diagnosis'" he said.

Dr Steel said the data had suggested that sun exposure may play a role in the development of this type of eye cancer.

"People in rural areas often have more occupational exposure to UV and those people living in higher latitudes like Queensland and Central Queensland have more sunny days to gain UV exposure'" he explained.

"Light coloured eyes and being of European ancestry are also contributing factors that make people more susceptible to UM."

Dr Steel said there were two things that people could do to try and prevent eye melanoma: prevention and earlier diagnosis.

"Prevention of a proportion of UM may involve wearing hats and sunglasses. This may be important particularly at young ages where UV radiation from the sun can penetrate further into the eye'" he said.

"Exposure to UV at those young ages may predispose people to getting cancer when they get older.

"In terms of diagnosis' most UM is detected during ophthalmology/optometry screening. Unfortunately' diagnosis of UM is seldom found at regular GP visits with up to a third of suffers having no symptoms and another third have some blurred vision. Regular eye check-ups by eye health practitioners may be essential for earlier detection of UM."

Dr Steel said this research was conducted with one of Queensland's leading ophthalmologists and CQUniversity adjunct Professor Chris Layton' who will use the results to inform clinical practice by ophthalmologists in Queensland.

"It is hoped that more Queenslanders will get eye tests regularly (every two years) with a goal of earlier diagnosis of UM."

And there's no stopping there. Dr Steel said more research was yet to be done.

"UM primarily metastasises to the liver where it becomes very difficult to treat with conventional therapies. The median survival after metastasis is only about six to 12 months.

"My group's next research phase is to develop a novel treatment for UM that has metastasised to the liver. We are working on a targeted gene delivery system using modified viruses to specifically target and kill UM in the liver without major damage to the liver."