Sept. 21, 2001
Volume XXXIV, No. 38

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Ophthalmology sets sights on alternative eye cancer treatment

Photo of pellets In a process called brachytherapy, doctors suture radioactive, iodine pellets to the outside of the eye, over the tumor. The pellets are slightly smaller than a penny and are typically removed from the eye after three-to-five days.

A collaborative study involving the department of ophthalmology shows ocular melanoma (eye cancer) patients can survive treatment without losing an eye. The UTHSC was one of 43 institutions in the United States and Canada participating in the Collaborative Ocular Melanoma Study (COMS). The National Eye Institute funded the project.

The clinical trial finds 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 a 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," said Dr. W.A.J. van Heuven, department of ophthalmology chair and principal investigator of the San Antonio study.

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 totaled 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 said.

The findings were reported in the July 2001 issue of Archives of Ophthalmology.

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


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