Doctor Expands Eye Cancer Study To Include More Patients

Jul 18, 2017

Ophthalmologist Michael Brennan is involved with the study commissioned by the town of Huntersville.
Credit Alexandra Olgin / WFAE

An ophthalmologist looking into eye cancer cases in northern Mecklenburg County says he has identified nearly two dozen people with the disease. That’s nearly double the cases identified in April.   

The town of Huntersville commissioned a study after 12 people who either worked or lived there were diagnosed with ocular melanoma over the past 10 years. Ophthalmologist Michael Brennan is involved in the study. He told Huntersville town officials last night that the extra cases don’t necessarily represent a sudden increase in the incidence of the cancer.

"Community awareness, social media and the press has expanded the population,” Brennan said.  “I’m getting patients who were diagnosed in 1985."

Around 2,500 people are diagnosed with the disease every year in the U.S. most tend to be older men. Of the cases initially identified in Huntersville, half were women under 30. A state report concluded in 2015 the number of cases was not higher than expected and couldn’t link any environmental factors. Brennan, said Huntersville's study takes a slightly different approach.

“Not to double check what the state did or the county did. But to just take another look at it,” Brennan said. “We have medical professionals more involved than the public health people of the state.”

State Legislators secured a $100,000 grant to fund the research. Part of that is testing for certain gene mutations commonly found in patients who have melanoma.  It also involves geospatial analysis. To analyze where patients have been and try and find a link or pattern. Brennan said the two dozen ocular melanoma cases identified have included residents of Huntersville, Mooresville, Davidson, Belmont and Mount Holly. 

He expects a substantial portion of the research to be completed by the end of the year. Brennan's careful to say finding a cause is unlikely, since previous research hasn’t identified one.