Purpose: To report complications and changes in vision during 2 years of follow-up of patients with age-related macular degeneration assigned randomly to surgical removal or to laser photocoagulation of subfoveal recurrent neovascular lesions in a pilot trial designed to test methods, to refine estimates of outcome rates, and to project patient accrual rates for a larger multicenter randomized trial to evaluate submacular surgery.
Patients and methods: Eligible patients with previous laser photocoagulation of extrafoveal or juxtafoveal choroidal neovascularization secondary to age-related macular degeneration were enrolled at 15 collaborating clinical centers. Assignments to treatment arm were made by personnel at a central coordinating center. Adherence to eligibility criteria and treatment assignment was assessed centrally at a photograph reading center. Patients were examined at 3, 6, 12, and 24 months after treatment for data collection purposes. Outcome measures reported include treatment complications, adverse events, requirements for additional treatment, and 2-year changes in visual acuity from baseline.
Results: Of 70 patients enrolled, 36 were assigned to laser photocoagulation and 34 to submacular surgery; all were treated as assigned. One patient in each group died before the 2-year examination. Visual acuity was measured at the 2-year examination for 31 of the surviving patients (89%) in the laser arm and for 28 of the surviving patients (85%) in the surgery arm. The 2-year measurements for 36 of the 59 patients (61%) were made by an examiner masked to treatment assignment and to the identity of the study eye. Improvements and losses of visual acuity were observed in both treatment arms; 20 of 31 study eyes (65%) in the laser arm and 14 of 28 study eyes (50%) in the surgery arm had visual acuity 2 years after enrollment that was better than or no more than 1 line worse than the baseline level. Changes in visual acuity and the size of the central macular lesions from baseline to the 2-year examination were similar in the treatment arms. Few serious complications were observed in either arm at the time of initial treatment; serious adverse events were rare. During follow-up, 11 laser-treated eyes and 18 surgically treated eyes had additional intraocular procedures.
Conclusions: The data from this pilot trial suggest no reason to prefer submacular surgery over laser photocoagulation for treatment of patients with age-related macular degeneration who have lesions similar to those studied in this pilot trial. Any clinical trial designed to compare submacular surgery with laser photocoagulation in eyes with age-related macular degeneration and subfoveal recurrent neovascular lesions must enroll several hundred patients in order to reach a statistically valid conclusion regarding differences between these two methods of treatment with respect to either changes in visual acuity or complication rates.