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Intraocular (Uveal) Melanoma Treatment (PDQ®)

Patient Version
Last Modified: 04/25/2014

Treatment Option Overview



There are different types of treatments for patients with intraocular melanoma.

Different types of treatments are available for patients with intraocular melanoma. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.

Five types of standard treatment are used:

Surgery

Surgery is the most common treatment for intraocular melanoma. The following types of surgery may be used:

  • Resection: Surgery to remove the tumor and a small amount of healthy tissue around it.
  • Enucleation: Surgery to remove the eye and part of the optic nerve. This is done if vision cannot be saved and the tumor is large, has spread to the optic nerve, or causes high pressure inside the eye. After surgery, the patient is usually fitted for an artificial eye to match the size and color of the other eye.
  • Exenteration: Surgery to remove the eye and eyelid, and muscles, nerves, and fat in the eye socket. After surgery, the patient may be fitted for an artificial eye to match the size and color of the other eye or a facial prosthesis.

Watchful Waiting

Watchful waiting is closely monitoring a patient’s condition without giving any treatment until symptoms appear or change. Pictures are taken over time to keep track of changes in the size of the tumor and how fast it is growing.

Watchful waiting is used for patients who do not have symptoms and the tumor is not growing. It is also used when the tumor is in the only eye with useful vision.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External-beam radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.

Localized plaque radiation therapy is a type of internal radiation therapy that may be used for tumors of the eye. Radioactive seeds are attached to a disk, called a plaque. The plaque is placed directly on the wall of the eye where the tumor is located. The side with the seeds faces the eyeball and delivers radiation to the eye. The plaque, which is often made of gold, helps protect nearby tissues from radiation damage.

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Plaque radiotherapy of the eye; drawing shows a cross-section of the eye. An inset shows a plaque with radioactive seeds; it is placed on the outside of the eye with the seeds aimed at the cancer. Also shown are the sclera, choroid, retina, and optic nerve.
Plaque radiotherapy of the eye. A type of radiation therapy used to treat eye tumors. Radioactive seeds are placed on one side of a thin piece of metal (usually gold) called a plaque. The plaque is sewn onto the outside wall of the eye. The seeds give off radiation which kills the cancer. The plaque is removed at the end of treatment, which usually lasts for several days.


Charged-particle external beam radiation therapy is a type of external-beam radiation therapy. A special radiation therapy machine aims tiny, invisible particles, called protons or helium ions, at the cancer cells to kill them with little damage to nearby normal tissues. Charged-particle radiation therapy uses a different type of radiation than the x-ray type of radiation therapy.

Gamma Knife therapy is a type of stereotactic radiosurgery used for some melanomas. This treatment can be given in one treatment. It aims tightly focused gamma rays directly at the tumor so there is little damage to healthy tissue. Gamma Knife therapy does not use a knife to remove the tumor and is not an operation.

Photocoagulation

Photocoagulation is a procedure that uses laser light to destroy blood vessels that bring nutrients to the tumor, causing the tumor cells to die. Photocoagulation may be used to treat small tumors. This is also called light coagulation.

Thermotherapy

Thermotherapy is the use of heat from a laser to destroy cancer cells and shrink the tumor.

New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.

Information about clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.

Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial.

For some patients, taking part in a clinical trial may be the best treatment choice. Clinical trials are part of the cancer research process. Clinical trials are done to find out if new cancer treatments are safe and effective or better than the standard treatment.

Many of today's standard treatments for cancer are based on earlier clinical trials. Patients who take part in a clinical trial may receive the standard treatment or be among the first to receive a new treatment.

Patients who take part in clinical trials also help improve the way cancer will be treated in the future. Even when clinical trials do not lead to effective new treatments, they often answer important questions and help move research forward.

Patients can enter clinical trials before, during, or after starting their cancer treatment.

Some clinical trials only include patients who have not yet received treatment. Other trials test treatments for patients whose cancer has not gotten better. There are also clinical trials that test new ways to stop cancer from recurring (coming back) or reduce the side effects of cancer treatment.

Clinical trials are taking place in many parts of the country. See the Treatment Options section that follows for links to current treatment clinical trials. These have been retrieved from NCI's listing of clinical trials.

Follow-up tests may be needed.

Some of the tests that were done to diagnose the cancer or to find out the stage of the cancer may be repeated. Some tests will be repeated in order to see how well the treatment is working. Decisions about whether to continue, change, or stop treatment may be based on the results of these tests. This is sometimes called re-staging.

Some of the tests will continue to be done from time to time after treatment has ended. The results of these tests can show if your condition has changed or if the cancer has recurred (come back). These tests are sometimes called follow-up tests or check-ups.