Background: The results of several pilot studies concerning radiation therapy for age-related subfoveal choroidal neovascularization (CNV) have been published recently. Although positive treatment results have been described, it is not known whether this therapy alters the natural course of eyes with neovascular age-related macular degeneration (AMD). A randomized controlled clinical trial was conducted in which radiation therapy was compared with observation in patients with subfoveal neovascular AMD.
Methods: Seventy-four patients with a recent drop in central vision due to subfoveal age-related CNV were randomized to either radiation treatment or observation. Patients with either classic, occult or mixed type CNV were included. Eyes in the treatment group received a radiation dose of 24 Gy in four fractions of 6 Gy. Evaluation of data concerning visual acuity (VA) and fluorescein angiography occurred at 3, 6 and 12 months after inclusion.
Results: At 12 months of follow-up 52.2% of the observation group versus 32.0% of the irradiation group had lost 3 or more lines of VA (P = 0.03, log rank test). More severe visual decline, 6 lines or more, was observed in 40.9% of the observation versus 8.8% in the irradiation group (P = 0.002 using log rank test). At 12 months 39.6% of the observation group and 20.0% of the treatment group had VA of less than 0.1 (P = 0.08, log rank test). The size of the CNV membrane doubled in 25.2% of eyes in the observation group versus 20.0% in the treatment group at least 12 months (P = 0.5, log rank test). No side effects were observed.
Conclusion: Preservation of VA was significantly better in the treatment group compared with the control group at 12 months. Nevertheless we noted a drop in central vision of 3 or more lines in a substantial proportion of the treatment group. Radiation therapy does not prevent visual loss in all patients with age-related subfoveal CNV, and whether the treatment benefit at 12 months will persist has to be awaited.