Background: Radiation is implicated in the induction of second malignancies in children with bilateral retinoblastoma. There is a need to determine whether this risk can be justified by good visual outcome when external beam radiotherapy (EBRT) is used as a salvage treatment.
Aim: To study the effectiveness of EBRT as a salvage treatment after failed primary chemotherapy and focal treatment in bilateral retinoblastoma.
Methods: This is a retrospective observational case series. The outcome measures after EBRT are: rate of eye preservation, rate of tumour control, visual potential, visual acuity, and radiation-induced side-effects.
Results: Thirty-six eyes (22 patients) were included. The median follow-up after EBRT was 40 months (19–165 months). Thirty-two eyes received lens-sparing radiotherapy and 4 received whole-eye radiation. The rate of eye preservation was 83.3% (30/36 eyes). Twenty-four eyes (66.6%) were controlled by EBRT and required no further treatment. Of the 30 preserved eyes, 20 eyes (66.7%) had extra-macular tumours without retinal detachment and therefore potential for central vision. The final visual acuity was recorded for 19 eyes. Ten eyes (52.6%) read 6/9-6/5, 3 eyes (15.8%) read 6/18- 6/36, 6 eyes (31.6%) read 6/60 or worse. Significant radiation- induced side effects were limited to cataracts and dry eyes with whole-eye radiation. There were no second cancers or deaths.
Conclusion: Salvage EBRT is highly effective in preserving eyes with useful vision in bilateral retinoblastoma after failed chemotherapy and focal treatments. These results will help the parents and ophthalmologists of such patients to reach an informed decision when weighing up the benefits of EBRT against its potential oncogenic effect.