Purpose: To analyze treatment results and patterns of failure following external beam radiation for retinoblastoma and propose treatment guidelines according to specific clinical variables.
Methods and materials: We analyzed 27 patients (34 eyes) with retinoblastoma who received external beam radiation as initial treatment at Hahnemann University Hospital from October 1980 to December 1991 and have been followed for at least 1 year. Of the 34 eyes, 14 were Groups I-II (Reese-Ellsworth classification), 7 were Group III, and 13 were Groups IV-V. Doses ranged from 34.5-49.5 Gy (mean 44.3 Gy, median 45 Gy) in 1.5-2.0 Gy fractions generally delivered through anterior and lateral wedged pair fields.
Results: At a mean follow up of 35.2 months (range 12-93 months), local tumor control was obtained in 44% (15 out of 34) of eyes with external beam radiation alone. Salvage therapy (plaque brachytherapy, cryotherapy, and/or photocoagulation) controlled an additional 10 eyes (29.5%), so that overall ocular survival has been 73.5%. Local tumor control with external beam radiotherapy alone was obtained in 78.5% (11 out of 14) of eyes in Groups I-II, but in only 20% (4 out of 20) of eyes in Groups III-V. A total of 67 existing tumors were identified prior to treatment in the 34 treated eyes and local control with external beam radiation alone was obtained in 87% (46 out of 53) of tumors measuring 15 mm or less and in 50% (7 out of 14) of tumors measuring more than 15 mm. When analyzing patterns of failure in the 19 eyes that relapsed, a total of 28 failure sites were identified and consisted of progression of vitreous seeds in seven instances (25% of failure sites) recurrences from previously existing tumors in 10 instances (36% of failure sites) and development of new tumors in previously uninvolved retina in 11 instances (39% of failure sites).
Conclusions: 1) We find that external beam radiation to a dose of 45 Gy in fractions of 1.5 to 2.0 Gy provides adequate tumor control in retinoblastoma eyes Groups I-II (Reese-Ellsworth classification) or tumors measuring 15 mm in diameter or less. Eyes in more advanced group staging or containing tumors larger than the 15 mm seem to require higher radiation doses. We propose treatment guidelines for external beam radiation of retinoblastoma that specifically take into account the important clinical variables of tumor stage and patient age. 2) External beam radiation does not prevent the appearance of new tumors in clinically uninvolved retina. Therefore, the traditional belief that external beam radiation can treat the retina "prophylactically" should be seriously questioned. Due to this finding and their significant less morbidity, focal treatment modalities (plaque brachytherapy, photocoagulation, and/or cryotherapy), when clinically feasible, should be considered the treatment of choice for intraocular retinoblastoma. External beam radiation should be considered only when focal treatment modalities are not clinically indicated.