From: Reuters
Published March 17, 2008 07:40 PM

New technique holds promise for rare eye cancer

CHICAGO (Reuters) - An experimental technique for a rare eye cancer has saved some children from losing their eyes and even restored vision in a few cases, U.S. researchers said on Monday.

After threading a catheter through the body to the eye, doctors delivered a drug directly to retinoblastoma tumors through an artery in the eye. This allowed them to administer a much larger dose of the chemotherapy drug melphalan, made by GlaxoSmithKline under the brand name Alkeran, than is normally given intravenously, they said.

Dr. Pierre Gobin of New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York, said the technique offers a "tremendous advance" in treating retinoblastoma, which often involves removing the eyes to keep the cancer from spreading.

"It allows many children to keep their eyes and -- in some cases -- restores vision," Gobin said in a statement.

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Gobin and colleagues presented his findings at the Society of Interventional Radiology's annual meeting in Washington.

Retinoblastoma affects 1 in 15,000 children. It forms when developing cells in the retina -- the eye's main light sensor -- go haywire and start reproducing out of control.

Gobin and colleagues tested the new technique that involved feeding a catheter up the femoral artery in the leg all the way through the body to the ophthalmic artery feeding the eye and tumor. They then injected the drug right into the tumor site.

They were able to save three-fourths of the eyes in 22 patients they treated, and preserved vision in half of them.

In many patients with advanced tumors, the cancer only affects one eye. For these, removing the tumor allows the child to have fully functional vision. But in children with tumors in both eyes, the treatment might help spare vision for some, they said.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Maggie Fox and Cynthia Osterman)

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