Trial could lead to medical breakthrough for ocular melanoma

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Years after a Mid-South woman thought she'd beat cancer, doctors delivered devastating news.

The cancer that originally appeared in one of her eyes had moved to another part of her body.

Without an aggressive plan of attack, the cancer could kill her. Now, a medical breakthrough is improving those odds.

Every six weeks or so, Pamela Dale of Caruthersville, Missouri, travels to Methodist University Hospital in Memphis to be treated for ocular melanoma.

"I was diagnosed in 2011 with ocular melanoma, and it was in my left eye," Dale said.

The cancer in her eye is gone, but in August of last year, Dale learned the cancer had spread to her liver.

"There are less than 10,000 people that have this in the U.S., so very, very rare," West Cancer Center Surgical Oncologist Dr. Evan Glazer said. "Melanoma of the eye has a habit, for lack of a better phrase, it goes to the liver. Why? No one knows. It's a great question."

Dr. Glazer will be closely studying Dale over the next few years, as part of a clinical trial: a collaboration with Methodist Healthcare, the Hamilton Eye Institute, the West Cancer Center and UT Health Science Center.

"This is a clinical trial that looks at whether patients who have melanoma that starts in the eye and spreads to the liver benefit from high dose chemotherapy given directly to the liver," Dr. Glazer said.

Methodist University Hospital is one of only 30 centers in the world involved. Only about a dozen are in the U.S.

"Half the patients will get randomized, a fancy way of saying a coinflip, to the treatment arm, which is a high dose chemotherapy to the liver," Dr. Glazer said. "And half the patients receive a standard of care which is the standard treatment for melanoma that's available, currently FDA approved."

The minimally invasive procedure cuts blood supply to the liver, infuses it with chemotherapy, and then reconnects blood flow back to the liver.

Though it's much too soon to guess the outcome of the trial, Dale and Dr. Glazer both are hopeful.

"I feel grateful and I feel like this is my place God put me here for a reason," Dale said.

"I think it's very exciting this collaboration can exist in Memphis," Dr. Glazer said.

It's a possible medical breakthrough, and one step closer to finding a cure.

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