No evidence of uveal melanoma cluster among Auburn University students and employees


CONTACT: Justin T. George, M.P.H.
(334) 206-3962
[email protected]

The Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH), working in conjunction with Auburn University, has conducted a review of cases of uveal melanoma among former Auburn students and employees. Based on the best available information, the study did not identify a cancer cluster among Auburn students and employees from 1980 through 2017.

Uveal melanoma is a cancer of the eye involving the iris, ciliary body, or choroid, collectively referred to as the uvea. According to the Ocular Melanoma Foundation, there is no known cause for uveal melanoma. This disease occurs more frequently in whites than any other races. According to the Alabama Statewide Cancer Registry (ASCR), the annual incidence rate in Alabama among whites is 0.7 per 100,000. From 2006 through 2015, there were 316 cases of uveal melanoma among Alabama residents for an average of 31.6 new cases each year.

ADPH was provided a list of Auburn University students and employees that had reported being diagnosed with this disease. ADPH reviewed medical information for these individuals to verify the cases. Once the cases were verified, Auburn University verified the attendance or employment of each individual. Auburn University then provided a population file for ADPH to calculate the expected numbers of uveal melanoma cases. The analysis was conducted for students who attended or employees who worked for Auburn University at any point from 1980 forward. The study included confirmed cases that were diagnosed any point between 1990 and 2017. Seventeen people, 9 males and 8 females, met the criteria to be included.

“Auburn University officials have been incredibly helpful throughout the entire process that began this spring,” Justin T. George, director of cancer epidemiology, ADPH ASCR, said.

Study findings include the following:

  • Based on Alabama rates and the population file provided by Auburn University, the expected number of cases in this time frame is 8.6 for white females and 13.6 for white males. In each instance, the expected number exceeds the number of observed cases.
  • The Standardized Incidence Ratio (SIR), a measure of the observed cases divided by the expected cases, was less than 1.0 for each group indicating less than expected occurrences of cancer. The SIR was not found to be statistically significant.
    Health care professionals should advise anyone who may have concerns about having uveal melanoma to schedule an eye exam with an optometrist or ophthalmologist.