Partial or complete blindness is one of the potential consequences of radiation treatment for eye cancer. Now a University of Colorado School of Medicine physician has discovered a way to prevent blindness related to eye cancer treatment.
Cancer of the eye and orbit is not common, but it can be devastating. The National Cancer Institute estimates that 2,480 men and women will receive a diagnosis of eye cancer in 2010, and that 230 adults will die of the disease in that year. The median age for diagnosis is 60, although about 13 percent of those with eye cancer are younger than 20.
New Eye Cancer treatment in the horizon
Eye cancer is traditionally treated with a type of radiation called plaque brachytherapy, which involves attaching a gold cap containing radioactive seeds to the white part of the eye. The radiation is released over one week, and while it destroys the tumor, it can also cause long-term damage, including loss of vision.
According to Scott Oliver, MD, assistant professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, “half of all patients are legally blind in three years in the treated eye” because the radiation damages nerves and blood vessels in the back of the eye.
The new technique involves using silicone oil, which can block most of the radiation from attacking critical structures in the eye while also allowing it to treat the tumor. Since essential structures in the eye can tolerate low doses of radiation, this method appears to be viable. Silicone oil is currently used to treat retinal detachment.
Thus far, silicone oil has been used in experiments involving cadaver eyes and in the eyes of live animals in the laboratory. No harmful side effects have been reported. The next step is to begin a clinical trial.
The use of silicone oil in eye cancer patients could prevent partial or complete blindness. Notes Oliver, “In the past, we could save the eye with radiation but we saved vision only half the time. With this treatment, I believe we will do much better in the future.”