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New study increases availability of eye cancer therapies (7-12-01)

Thousands of ocular melanoma (eye cancer) patients can survive treatment without losing an eye, according to new research out of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC). The Health Science Center is one of 43 institutes in the United States and Canada participating in the Collaborative Ocular Melanoma Study (COMS), which is funded by the National Eye Institute.

The clinical trial, reported in the July 2001 issue of Archives of Ophthalmology, found that ocular melanoma patients treated with radiation therapy have the same survival rate as patients who underwent eye removal. Doctors began studying radiation therapy about 25 years ago in an attempt to preserve the patient’s eye, as well as some eyesight. Until now, the medical community was not sure which treatment was more effective in preventing the spread of cancer. “Now patients know they can choose between the treatments without risking their lives,” says Dr. W.A.J. van Heuven, M.D., chairman of the department of ophthalmology at the UTHSC.

Dr. van Heuven also says the study shows the survival rate is better than initially thought with both types of treatment. The projected five-year survival rate was 70 percent; the actual survival rate climbed to 82 percent.

Most importantly, Dr. van Heuven says the study sets a new “gold standard” for patient treatment. “Every time you do a study like this, it raises the level of medical expertise and improves the way we can care for patients,” Dr. van Heuven says.

Ocular melanoma is the most common type of eye cancer. It strikes between 2,400 and 6,000 people in the United States and Canada each year.

Contact: Will Sansom or Amanda Gallagher