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Intraocular (Uveal) Melanoma Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Treatment Option Overview

Role of Observation

Iris melanomas have relatively good outcomes with a 5-year survival rate of more than 95%. They are predominantly of the spindle-cell type and are usually smaller in size than posterior melanomas because of earlier detection. Conservative management is generally advocated whenever possible, but surgical intervention may be justified with unequivocal tumor growth or with extensive disease at initial examination.

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Skin cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the skin. The skin is the body's largest organ. It protects against heat, sunlight, injury, and infection. Skin also helps control body temperature and stores water, fat, and vitamin D. The skin has several layers, but the two main layers are the epidermis (upper or outer layer) and the dermis (lower or inner layer). The epidermis is made up of 3 kinds of cells: Squamous cells are the thin, flat cells that...

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The management of small choroidal melanomas is controversial, and it is not clear whether treatment of small tumors prevents metastasis.[1] The natural history of small choroidal melanoma is poorly understood. Small, pigmented, choroidal lesions cannot always be differentiated reliably on examination. Growth is a presumed indicator of malignant potential.[2] The likelihood of progression from the time of diagnosis to the time when tumor growth warrants treatment has not been well characterized. Some ophthalmologists advocate observation. This has been justified on several grounds, including the difficulty with establishing a correct diagnosis, the lack of any documented efficacy for globe-conserving treatments, and concerns for severe treatment-related morbidity. Others have advocated earlier therapeutic intervention.[1,3,4]

Although patients diagnosed with small choroidal tumors were not eligible for participation in the Collaborative Ocular Melanoma Study (COMS), these patients were offered participation in a prospective follow-up study to evaluate the natural history of small lesions. Two-year and 5-year tumor growth estimates of 21% and 31%, respectively, were reported.[5] Clinical risk factors associated with tumor growth included:[3,5]

  • Increased tumor thickness.
  • Presence of subretinal fluid.
  • Orange pigmentation.
  • Absence of drusen.
  • Absence of retinal pigment.
  • Margin at the optic disc.
  • Epithelial changes surrounding the tumor.

Role of Surgery

The selection of treatment depends on the following:

  • Site of origin (choroid, ciliary body, or iris).
  • Size and location of the lesion.
  • Age of the patient.
  • Occurrence of extraocular invasion, recurrence, or metastasis.


In the past, enucleation (eye removal) was the standard treatment for primary choroidal melanoma, and it is still used for large tumors. However, enucleation has been largely replaced by radiation therapy (i.e., brachytherapy with radioactive plaques; or external-beam, charged-particle radiation therapy) to spare the affected eye.[6,7]

Pre-enucleation external beam radiation therapy (EBRT)

In the case of large, choroidal tumors judged to require enucleation, the role of pre-enucleation EBRT was tested in a randomized trial and had no impact on overall survival (OS).[8,9][Level of evidence: 1iiA] In a COMS trial, 1,003 patients with large choroidal melanomas (≥2 mm in height and ≥16 mm in diameter, or ≥10 mm in height irrespective of diameter, or ≥8 mm in height and border <2 mm from the optic disc) with no known metastases were randomly assigned to receive enucleation alone or after preoperative external photon-beam radiation from cobalt 60 or accelerators (20 Gy in five daily fractions) to the orbit and globe.[8,9] Through 10 years of follow-up, the median survival in both arms was approximately 7 years, and the 10-year all-cause mortality was 61% in both arms (relative risk for death of 1.00; 95% CI, 0.85–1.18). Metastasis-free survival was also virtually identical in both arms.


WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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