Background: The poor results of laser photocoagulation in patients with age-related macular degeneration who have subfoveal neovascular membranes, as reported by the Macular Photocoagulation Study Group, have posed the question as to whether the surgical removal of the neovascular membranes by subfoveal surgery might provide superior functional results, possibly in subgroups of patients.
Methods: The authors' first ten patients treated by subfoveal surgery were followed prospectively. Follow-up of a mean duration of 2 years is presented, with particular emphasis on visual and anatomic outcomes. Preoperative subfoveal choroidal neovascular membranes and postoperative retinal pigment epithelial defects were measured using digitized planimetry.
Results: Initial visual acuities were equal to or less than 20/400, with a mean duration of visual loss of 8 months. The mean choroidal neovascular membrane size was 7 disc areas. Eight of ten patients improved one to two lines of Snellen visual acuity postoperatively. One patient achieved visual acuity of 20/60 at 15 months before declining because of recurrent neovascularization. Surgically induced retinal pigment epithelial defects were invariable; the mean defect was 14 standard disc areas in size. Choriocapillaris atrophy and focal losses of deeper choroidal tissue also occurred. Surgical complications were frequent but responded to routine management. The authors observe a 2-year recurrence rate of 40%. Recurrences often are atypical, fibrous, and poorly vascularized.
Conclusions: Although substantial visual improvements are common, long-term reading vision has not been achieved. Retinal pigment epithelial incorporation into late subfoveal membranes remains a major limiting factor. The role of early surgery and the role of surgery for patient subgroups need to be compared directly with the results of foveal laser treatment, using several visual outcomes.