A person with a pterygium on the eye is 24 per cent more likely to develop malignant melanoma of the skin, a new study from the Lions Eye Institute (LEI) has revealed.
Researchers from LEI examined almost 24,000 WA patient records of hospital-treated pterygium from 1979 to 2014 and found a strong link between the eye condition and melanoma - the most deadly form of skin cancer.
Pterygium - commonly known as surfer’s eye - is a fleshy growth on the surface of the eye which can cover the pupil and lead to vision problems. It is caused by excessive exposure to sun, dust or wind but is not cancerous and treatment usually involves protection against ongoing exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) or ointments where there is eye irritation. Surgery is an option in some cases.
But despite being a benign condition, co-author Professor David Mackey, Chair of UWA Ophthalmology and Managing Director of LEI, said it is a major red flag for skin cancer.
“Understanding the link between the two gives us a possible tool for early detection of melanoma.
“Health professionals who see patients with a developing pterygium are well placed to alert them to the increased risk of developing melanoma, recommend lifestyle changes and promote regular skin checks because early detection of melanoma can save lives,” he said.
Australia has one of the highest rates of pterygia in the world and melanoma incidence rates have been steadily increasing, with 15 per cent proving fatal.
Professor Mackey said although the link between solar UVR and pterygia was well established, it would also be important for researchers to define safe UVR exposure limits for Australians that balanced the maintenance of adequate Vitamin D levels and potentially reduced the risk of myopia (short-sightedness) while minimising the incidence and mortality from melanoma.