(WAFB) - There are only about 2,500 cases of ocular melanoma each year, so experts say it's not surprising not a lot is known about the cancer. Like skin cancer, the disease preys on melanoma cells in eye. Chances of it metastasizing, or spreading to other organs, even after successful treatment of tumors in the eye, are a tossup at about 50 percent.
"Half of patients who have ocular melanoma will develop metastasis and the most common place that it metastasizes to is the liver," explained oncologist, Dr. Vincent Cataldo.
Former Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco was treated for an ocular melanoma more than six years ago, and this week, she revealed the cancer did in fact spread to her liver. Dr. Cataldo is not treating Blanco, but as an oncologist at Mary Bird Perkins Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center in Baton Rouge, he is familiar with the disease.
"Melanoma is an extraordinarily smart tumor and one that has a large number of mutations. Those mutations actually cause this to be a tumor that is very resistant to forms of treatment, and one that is difficult to eradicate completely," said Cataldo.
Cataldo explains there isn't a cure for a metastasized ocular melanoma, but it can be treated. However, once the cancer spreads from the eye to the liver, Cataldo says traditional treatments, such as chemotherapy or immunotherapy, aren't usually effective, making the long-term outlook for patients grim.
However, the many mutations that allow the cancer to resist treatment could actually hold the key to getting it under control and extending a patient's life. "Most of the novel approaches to metastatic melanoma of an eye origin are looking at the mutation within those cells so that if we can find a targetable mutation where we have a drug that matches that mutation, hopefully with targeted therapy we can get some control of the disease," said Cataldo.
Blanco's family says after undergoing her first treatment in Philadelphia, she is feeling stronger and they continue to ask for prayers and support during her fight.