Former Auburn University graduate Allyson Allred, who was diagnosed in 2001 with rare ocular melanoma, has died, her father, former State Senator and past Alabama Republican Party chairman Bill Armistead, announced on Facebook recently. Allred was 49.
“My loving daughter is now in the presence of our Heavenly Father and her Earthly Mother,” Armistead wrote. “She slipped away during the night while she slept.”
Soon after Allred was diagnosed with the rare cancer of the eye, she learned that another classmate of hers who lived in the same dorm had been diagnosed with the same cancer. It wasn’t long before the women discovered more people who had attended Auburn during the same time period who had been diagnosed with ocular melanoma. The rare cancer typically affects only about 6 in 1 million people.
There have been 26 verified cases of ocular melanoma over 40 years among people who attended or worked for Auburn University. The Alabama Department of Public Health investigated but did not find evidence of a cluster. Auburn University said it will continue to investigate what might be causing the disease.
A similar outbreak of ocular melanoma was also seen in Huntersville, North Carolina, where 20 people have been diagnosed with the disease.
Melanoma is often found on the skin and caused by UV light or sun exposure. But it is unlikely the cases of eye cancer in Auburn and Huntersville are related to UV exposure, oncologist Dr. Marlana Orloff told NPR.
Ocular melanoma develops from cells that produce the dark pigment melanin, which are found in the skin, hair, eyes, and lining of some internal organs. Symptoms include dark spots in the eye and flashes or blurry vision. Some people don’t have symptoms, Orloff said.
Radiation is the primary treatment and is generally effective. But about half of the patients see a recurrence of the disease within the first three to five years.