In a new study, researchers found that ultraviolet (UV) radiation can cause a rare type of eye cancer, conjunctival melanoma.
They found strikingly similar genetic changes in conjunctival melanoma to that of cutaneous (skin) melanoma caused by UV radiation.
They suggest that treatments used for skin melanoma may also benefit people with this rare form of eye cancer.
The research was conducted by a team at the Cancer Research UK Manchester Institute.
UV radiation is known to be the key environmental cause of melanoma of the skin, but its role in the development of rarer forms of melanoma in the eye was not known.
The 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.
Surprisingly, 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.
They showed that people with conjunctival melanoma driven by UV radiation have mutations in the BRAF and RAS genes, which are often seen in skin 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 skin 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.
One author of the study is Professor Richard Marais.
The study is published in Nature Communications.
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