Purpose: To review the long-term experience of helium ion therapy as a therapeutic alternative to enucleation for uveal melanoma, particularly with respect to survival, local control, and morbidity.
Methods and materials: 347 patients with uveal melanoma were treated with helium ion RT from 1978-1992. A nonrandomized dose-searching study was undertaken, with doses progressively reduced from 80 GyE in five fractions to 48 GyE in four fractions, given in 3-15 days, mean of 7 days.
Results: Local control was achieved in 96% of patients, with no difference in the rate of local control being seen at 80, 70, 60, or 50 GyE in five fractions. At the lowest dose level of 48 GyE in four fractions, the local control rate fell to 87%. Fifteen of 347 patients (4%) had local regrowth in the eye requiring enucleation (12 patients), laser (1 patient) or reirradiation (2 patients). The time of appearance of local regrowth ranged from 4 months to 5 years posttreatment, with 85% occurring within 3 years. Of the 347 patients, 208 are alive as of May 1, 1997. The median follow up of all patients is 8.5 years, range 1-17 years. Kaplan-Maier (K-M) survival is 80% at 5 years, 76% at 10 years, and 72% at 15 years posttreatment. Patients with tumors not involving the ciliary body have a 15-year K-M survival of 80%. The results for patients whose tumors involved the ciliary body are poor, with a 15-year K-M survival of 43%. Seventy-five percent of patients with tumors at least 3.0 mm from the fovea and optic nerve, and initial ultrasound height less than 6.0 mm, retained vision of 20/200 or better posttreatment. Patients with tumors larger than 6 mm in thickness, or with tumors lying close to the optic nerve or fovea, have a reduced chance of retaining useful vision. The enucleation rate is 19%, 3% for local failure and 16% because of complications of the helium RT, particularly neovascular glaucoma, which occurred in 35% of patients.
Conclusions: Local control and retention of the eye are excellent. Complications of therapy reduce vision and eye preservation. Twenty-four percent of patients manifested distant metastases 6 to 146 months posttreatment, mean of 43 months, median of 36 months. Late-appearing distant metastases do not appear to be caused by persistent tumor in the eye. The risk of metastases is high for patients with tumors greater than 7 mm in initial ultrasound height (37%), anterior tumors involving the ciliary body (47%), and in those with local failure (53%). Patients with tumors not involving the ciliary body and initial dimensions less than 10 mm had only an 8% chance of death from melanoma. A search for effective adjuvant therapy is needed for patients at high risk of metastases (large tumors, ciliary body involved, local regrowth in eye).