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YOUR HEALTH: A golden treatment for eye cancer

A thread of gold has saved not only a person's eyesight, but also their life.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Melanoma isn't only found on the skin.

About 100,000 people in the United States will be diagnosed with melanoma each year.

You've heard about the unusual moles to check for on your body.

But, melanoma can also be found in your eyes.

The solution is often to remove the eye.

But now a thread of gold is changing that.

Tiki Dickerson went to the ophthalmologist when she accidently got eye cream in her right eye.

"(The doctor) said, 'Tiki, I've never seen this before. I'm concerned,'" Tiki explained.

But it wasn't that eye that gave her doctors a concern.

The doctor spotted a tiny bubble in Tiki's other eye. 

Twelve years after surviving breast cancer, now, Tiki faced a diagnosis of melanoma. 

Ophthalmologists at the University of Florida used gold to save Tiki's eye.

"Gold is used because it doesn't let the radiation to scatter. So, it makes it more precise," said University of Florida Ocular Oncologist Dr. Gibran Khurshid.

The gold is used to make a radioactive iodine plaque, sewn onto the surface of the eye. 

The radioactive seeds inside are half the size of a grain of rice.

"Those seeds are embedded in a mesh and placed on the underside of that plaque," Khurshid said.

The gold stays sewn onto the eye for four days and is then removed. 

Tiki's melanoma is gone but she's dealing with some painful side effects.

"It feels like every single day, a sunburn in my eye," she said. "My eye held open with a fan blowing on it."

Although painful, her eyesight was preserved and her life saved.

Tiki will be checked for melanoma every three months for a year. 

Her siblings were also told to be checked as this type of melanoma is genetic. the best candidates for this treatment are people with small to medium sized tumors located towards the front of the eye and who also have good vision.

A new drug is also in development

A drug to treat eye cancer is beginning clinical trials. 

Uveal melanoma is the most common form of eye cancer, about 2,500 people in the U.S. get uveal melanoma per year. 

A team of researchers with the WVU Cancer Institute are developing a cancer treatment that zeroes in on the diseased cells with more precision. 

They received FDA approval to start trials. 

The drug is called MTI-201 and will treat uveal melanoma after the cancer has traveled to another part of the body. 

The treatment focuses on a specific biomarker that is overabundant in uveal melanoma cells. 

Because the receptor isn't as plentiful in healthy cells, the drug doesn't destroy them. 

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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