Purpose: To review emerging information related to changing concepts in the management of choroidal melanoma.
Design and methods: This perspective reviews and discusses selected studies from the past two decades that have influenced management strategies for large, medium, and small-size choroidal melanomas.
Results: Large choroidal tumors continue to be managed primarily by enucleation. The large tumor trial of the Collaborative Ocular Melanoma Study (COMS) demonstrated neither a positive nor negative effect on 5- and 8-year mortality rates among more than 1000 patients whose eyes containing large choroidal melanomas were randomized to treatment between enucleation alone or enucleation preceded by external radiation. The medium-size tumor trial of the COMS randomized more than 1300 patients between iodine-125 brachytherapy and enucleation. Mortality rates following brachytherapy did not differ from mortality rates following enucleation for up to 12 years after treatment. Iodine-125 has become the most commonly used isotope for brachytherapy in North America. Ten-year follow-up of eyes treated with helium ion and 20 years of experience with proton beam confirm the relative safety and efficacy of these modalities for treatment of choroidal melanoma. Although there is a trend toward earlier treatment of small melanomas, controversy exists regarding the indications for treatment as well as the choice of specific therapy. Recurrences of melanoma after eye-sparing treatment appear to be associated with an increased rate of metastatic disease. Effective adjunctive therapy to prevent or treat melanoma metastasis is lacking.
Conclusions: Choroidal melanoma is a lethal tumor. Although evidence suggests that patients with untreated choroidal melanomas have a poorer prognosis than patients who receive treatment, our current treatments are unable to prevent tumor-related deaths for many patients. The use of preoperative external radiation as an adjunct to enucleation for large choroidal melanomas is unsupported by data from the COMS trial. The use of radiation with either brachytherapy or charged particles for the management of medium-size choroidal melanomas is well supported on the basis of long-term follow-up studies. There is a trend toward treatment of smaller choroidal melanomas. Treatment of melanomas should be directed toward minimizing the potential for recurrences as recurrent melanomas are associated with an increased rate of metastatic disease. Gains in our ability to manage choroidal melanoma will likely be modest at best until effective systemic therapies can be identified.