It is uncommon, but eye cancer is life shattering, and it can hit anyone. Treatment frequently means radiation which leaves 50% of patients partly blind.
Now a technique developed by an assistant professor at University of Colorado School of Medicine, named Scott Oliver, MD, may change all this. He has found that applying silicone oil inside the eye is able to block up to 55 percent of harmful radiation, and this is enough to prevent blindness in most patients during treatments.
“You want to know, `Is this going to kill me? Is this going to make me go blind?”’ says Dr. Oliver. “I believe this treatment will allow you to keep your eye and keep your vision.”
Oliver concentrated on choroidal melanoma of the eye, the most dangerous and common form of the disease. It strikes over 2,000 people each year, and can even spread rapidly to the liver and lungs, which is frequently fatal. It can happen to people of any age, however, fair skin and sun exposure are suspected to be a leading cause.
Doctors treat the condition with a technique known as plaque brachytherapy. Surgeons affix a gold cap containing radioactive seeds to the white part of the eye. For seven days the radiation gradually burns away the tumor, but it also causes long-term damage. According to Oliver, “Half of all patients are legally blind in three years in the treated eye.”
In his mission to save patients eyesight, Oliver experimented with different substances that could block radiation from striking important structures, but allow it to hit the tumor. He found silicone oil, which is already used to treat retinal detachment, could screen out the bulk of harmful radiation.
“You don’t have to block out all the radiation to protect the eye because the vital structures in the eye can tolerate low doses of radiation,” he explains.
The experiments were conducted on cadaver eyes and on animals in the laboratory and no harmful side-effects were found. Clinical trials are soon to follow. “This is a significant development in the way we treat this disease,” Oliver explains. “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.
photo: Andrea Volpini Flickr