Intravenous versus super-selected intra-arterial chemotherapy in children with advanced unilateral retinoblastoma: an open-label, multicentre, randomised trial

Lancet Child Adolesc Health. 2023 Sep;7(9):613-620. doi: 10.1016/S2352-4642(23)00141-4. Epub 2023 Jul 31.


Background: Super-selected intra-arterial chemotherapy has increasingly been used as conservative management for retinoblastoma during the past decade. However, the absence of evidence from randomised controlled trials engendered controversy in the administration route of chemotherapy. We aimed to assess the efficacy and safety of intra-arterial chemotherapy compared with intravenous chemotherapy.

Methods: This open-label, multicentre, randomised trial was done at six hospitals in China. Patients with new-onset unilateral group D or E retinoblastoma (poorly defined, large, or very large tumours, according to the International Intraocular Retinoblastoma Classification) without high-risk clinical factors were included. Patients were randomly assigned (1:1) to receive intra-arterial chemotherapy (injections of 0·5 mg/kg [or depending on age] melphalan with 20 mg carboplatin [first and third cycles] or with 1 mg topotecan [second and fourth cycles]) or intravenous chemotherapy (0·05 mg/kg [or 1·5 mg/m2] vincristine, 5 mg/kg [or 150 mg/m2] etoposide, and 18·6 mg/kg [or 560 mg/m2] carboplatin for six cycles). After intra-arterial chemotherapy, patients received a subcutaneous injection of 0·1 mL nadroparin calcium twice at a 12 h interval. Both intra-arterial and intravenous chemotherapy cycles were completed every 4 weeks. No masking was done, except of independent statisticians, who were masked to the allocation information. The primary outcome was 2-year progression-free globe salvage rate, defined as the time from randomisation to tumour progression or enucleation, whichever occurred first, and was analysed by intention to treat. We also recorded predefined safety outcomes (myelosuppression and ophthalmic arterial stenosis or occlusion) and severe adverse events likely to be related to study treatment. The study is registered with the Chinese Clinical Trial Registry, ChiCTR-IPR-15006469, and is complete.

Findings: Between June 1, 2015, and June 1, 2018, 234 patients with newly diagnosed retinoblastoma were screened and 143 eligible patients (median age 23·6 months [IQR 14·0-31·9]) were enrolled and randomly assigned to the intra-arterial chemotherapy group (n=72) or the intravenous chemotherapy group (n=71). At a median follow-up of 35·8 months (IQR 28·4-43·0), the 2-year progression-free globe salvage rate was 53% (38 of 72 patients) in the intra-arterial chemotherapy group and 27% (19 of 71 patients) in the intravenous chemotherapy group (risk ratio 1·97, 95% CI 1·27-3·07, p=0·0020). Myelosuppression was less common in the intra-arterial chemotherapy group than in the intravenous chemotherapy group (37 [51%] of 72 patients vs 50 [70%] of 71 patients; 0·73, 95% CI 0·56-0·96, p=0·021) and less severe (ptrend=0·0070). In the intra-arterial chemotherapy group, two (3%) of 72 patients had ophthalmic artery occlusion and 13 (18%) patients had ophthalmic artery stenosis.

Interpretation: Our findings show that intra-arterial chemotherapy could significantly improve the globe salvage rate in children with advanced unilateral retinoblastoma compared with intravenous chemotherapy, with mild systemic complications and no difference in overall survival rate. Intra-arterial chemotherapy could be an acceptable first-line treatment in children with advanced unilateral retinoblastoma.

Funding: Scientific Research Program of the National Health and Family Planning Commission of China, the Clinical Research Plan of Shanghai Hospital Development Center, the National Natural Science Foundation of China, and the Science and Technology Commission of Shanghai Municipality.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Carboplatin / adverse effects
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • China
  • Constriction, Pathologic / chemically induced
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Retinal Neoplasms* / chemically induced
  • Retinal Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Retinoblastoma* / chemically induced
  • Retinoblastoma* / drug therapy


  • Carboplatin