Ultraviolet (UV) radiation may contribute to the development of a rare type of eye cancer, conjunctival melanoma, according to research published by Mundra et al in Nature Communications.
The new study has revealed similar genetic changes in patients with conjunctival melanoma to those with cutaneous melanoma caused by UV radiation. The research team suggest that treatments used for cutaneous melanoma may also benefit people with this rare form of eye cancer.
Researchers used whole-genome sequencing to examine the genetic makeup of melanomas that develop on the conjunctiva—the specialized membrane that covers the front of the eye—to better understand what causes this particular melanoma subtype. They found similar genetic changes in tissue samples from people with conjunctival melanoma to the genetic changes that occur in melanoma of the skin attributed to UV radiation. Patients with conjunctival melanoma driven by UV radiation have mutations in the BRAF and RAS genes, which are often seen in cutaneous melanoma. These findings complement a similar study showing that another type of rare type of melanoma of the eye, called uveal melanoma (which develops in the iris), can also be caused by UV radiation.
These two studies suggest that people with particular forms of eye cancer could benefit from treatments that are currently used for cutaneous melanoma, including those which target BRAF mutations, but not yet approved for melanoma of the eye. Those drugs could, if proven to benefit these patients, be given based on the genetics of the tumor, rather than their location in the body.
Richard Marais, PhD
Richard Marais, PhD, lead author of the study, said, “Our work shows the importance of delving into the underlying biology in rare cancers, which could identify new tailored treatment avenues for people. In this case, we have identified mutations in a rare type of eye cancer that could be targeted by drugs used to treat skin cancer.”
Now, ongoing work will need to explore if BRAF-targeted therapies, or other immunotherapies used for cutaneous melanoma, could benefit people with conjunctival melanoma.
Dr. Marais added, “By showing that UV radiation can cause conjunctival melanoma, we have added to our understanding of the known dangers of the sun for our eyes. It reminds us of the importance of protecting not just your skin, but also your eyes from UV light.”
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