Purpose: To investigate the risk of radiation-induced retinopathy according to total radiation dose and fraction size, based on both retrospective and prospectively collected data.
Methods and materials: Between October 1964 and May 1989, 68 retinae in 64 patients received fractionated external-beam irradiation during the treatment of primary extracranial head and neck tumors. All patients had a minimum of 3 years of ophthalmologic follow-up (range, 3 to 26 years; mean, 9 years; median, 8 years).
Results: Twenty-seven eyes in 26 patients developed radiation retinopathy resulting in visual acuity of 20/200 or worse. The mean and median times to the onset of symptoms attributable to retinal ischemia were 2.8 and 2.5 years, respectively. Fourteen of the injured eyes developed rubeosis iridis and/or neovascular glaucoma. Radiation retinopathy was not observed at doses below 45 Gy, but increased steadily in incidence at doses > or = 45 Gy. In the range of doses between 45 and 55 Gy, there was an increased risk of injury among patients who received doses per fraction of > or = 1.9 Gy (p = .09). There was also a trend toward increased risk of injury among patients who received chemotherapy (two of two vs. four of ten in the 45-51 Gy range; p = .23). The lowest dose associated with retinopathy was 45 Gy delivered to a diabetic patient by twice-a-day fractionation. The data did not suggest an increased risk of radiation retinopathy with increasing age.
Conclusion: The current study suggests the importance of total dose as well as dose per fraction, and adds support to a small body of literature suggesting that patients with diabetes mellitus or who receive chemotherapy are at increased risk of injury. A sigmoid dose-response curve is constructed from our current data and data from the literature.