Medical Team Sets Out To Solve New York VRL Outbreak Mystery

According to Timesunion, 10 patients in New York were diagnosed with the extremely rare eye cancer called vitreoretinal lymphoma. Since all of these diagnoses happened within four years of patients living in close proximity of each other, it is considered a cancer “cluster.” It’s abnormality caused Mt. Sinai/Beth Israel Comprehensive Cancer Center to recruit a team with hopes of solving the mystery. Once the team got ahold of research from Roxana Moslehi, a genetic epidemiologist from the University of Albany, the mystery had its first clues.

Vitreoretinal lymphoma is such a rare cancer than many doctors fail to notice it right away. Due to its rarity, it’s hard to diagnose. Yet, when four different ophthalmologists from New York sent Dr. Sanford Kempin these 10 patients, they knew there had to be a reason for it. The search for an answer continued, but thanks to Roxana, the team was guided in a promising direction.

After going through Roxana’s research and attempting to connect some dots, radiation exposure seemed to be the cause of these cancer developments. In 1986, a nuclear power plant disaster occurred and six of these 10 patients lived nearby. The Chernobyl disaster has been linked to several cancer clusters. For example, 7000 thyroid cancer cases were linked to the incident.

Additionally, in the 1950s, the U.S. dropped nuclear test bombs in the Pacific Islands and the U.K. performed nuclear testing in 1957 and 1958. Scientists have been performing studies for quite some time to determine whether these tests, and the fallout that followed, are directly linked to cancer cases being discovered in the Pacific Islands.

While it seems like a strong possibility, there are no definite answers. Out of the other four diagnosed with VRL, only one lived near a nuclear plant in the U.S. while the the other three did not. Yet, the question remains whether or not they were exposed to other types of radiation in other locations that brought about the diagnosis. More research must be conducted to bring about a complete answer.


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