Radiotherapy for neovascular age-related macular degeneration

Jennifer R. Evans, Chinedu Igwe, Timothy L. Jackson, Victor Chong

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Radiotherapy has been proposed as a treatment for new vessel growth in people with neovascular age-related macular degeneration (AMD). OBJECTIVES: To examine the effects of radiotherapy on neovascular AMD. SEARCH METHODS: We searched CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, LILACS and three trials registers and checked references of included studies. We last searched the databases on 4 May 2020.  SELECTION CRITERIA: We included all randomised controlled trials in which radiotherapy was compared to another treatment, sham treatment, low dosage irradiation or no treatment in people with choroidal neovascularisation (CNV) secondary to AMD. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: We used standard procedures expected by Cochrane. We graded the certainty of the evidence using GRADE. We considered the following outcomes at 12 months: best-corrected visual acuity (BCVA) (loss of 3 or more lines, change in visual acuity), contrast sensitivity, new vessel growth, quality of life and adverse effects at any time point.  MAIN RESULTS: We included 18 studies (n = 2430 people, 2432 eyes) of radiation therapy with dosages ranging from 7.5 to 24 Gy. These studies mainly took place in Europe and North America but two studies were from Japan and one multicentre study included sites in South America. Three of these studies investigated brachytherapy (plaque and epimacular), the rest were studies of external beam radiotherapy (EBM) including one trial of stereotactic radiotherapy. Four studies compared radiotherapy combined with anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) with anti-VEGF alone. Eleven studies gave no radiotherapy treatment to the control group; five studies used sham irradiation; and one study used very low-dose irradiation (1 Gy). One study used a mixture of sham irradiation and no treatment. Fifteen studies were judged to be at high risk of bias in one or more domains. Radiotherapy versus no radiotherapy There may be little or no difference in loss of 3 lines of vision at 12 months in eyes treated with radiotherapy compared with no radiotherapy (risk ratio (RR) 0.82, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.64 to 1.04, 811 eyes, 8 studies, I2 = 66%, low-certainty evidence). Low-certainty evidence suggests a small benefit in change in visual acuity (mean difference (MD) -0.10 logMAR, 95% CI -0.17 to -0.03; eyes = 883; studies = 10) and average contrast sensitivity at 12 months (MD 0.15 log units, 95% CI 0.05 to 0.25; eyes = 267; studies = 2). Growth of new vessels (largely change in CNV size) was variably reported and It was not possible to produce a summary estimate of this outcome. The studies were small with imprecise estimates and there was no consistent pattern to the study results (very low-certainty evidence). Quality of life was only reported in one study of 199 people; there was no clear difference between treatment and control groups (low-certainty evidence). Low-certainty evidence was available on adverse effects from eight of 14 studies. Seven studies reported on radiation retinopathy and/or neuropathy. Five of these studies reported no radiation-associated adverse effects. One study of 88 eyes reported one case of possible radiation retinopathy. One study of 74 eyes graded retinal abnormalities in some detail and found that 72% of participants who had radiation compared with 71% of participants in the control group had retinal abnormalities resembling radiation retinopathy or choroidopathy. Four studies reported cataract surgery or progression: events were generally few with no consistent evidence of any increased occurrence in the radiation group. One study noted transient disturbance of the precorneal tear film but there was no evidence from the other two studies that reported dry eye of any increased risk with radiation therapy. None of the participants received anti-VEGF injections. Radiotherapy combined with anti-VEGF versus anti-VEGF alone People receiving radiotherapy/anti-VEGF were probably more likely to lose 3 or more lines of BCVA at 12 months compared with anti-VEGF alone (RR 2.11, 95% CI 1.40 to 3.17, 1050 eyes, 3 studies, moderate-certainty). Most of the data for this outcome come from two studies of epimacular brachytherapy (114 events) compared with 20 events from the one trial of EBM. Data on change in BCVA were heterogenous (I2 = 82%). Individual study results ranged from a small difference of -0.03 logMAR in favour of radiotherapy/anti-VEGF to a difference of 0.13 logMAR in favour of anti-VEGF alone (low-certainty evidence). The effect differed depending on how the radiotherapy was delivered (test for interaction P = 0.0007). Epimacular brachytherapy was associated with worse visual outcomes (MD 0.10 logMAR, 95% CI 0.05 to 0.15, 820 eyes, 2 studies) compared with EBM (MD -0.03 logMAR, 95% CI -0.09 to 0.03, 252 eyes, 2 studies). None of the included studies reported contrast sensitivity or quality of life. Growth of new vessels (largely change in CNV size) was variably reported in three studies (803 eyes). It was not possible to produce a summary estimate and there was no consistent pattern to the study results (very low-certainty evidence). For adverse outcomes, variable results were reported in the four studies. In three studies reports of adverse events were low and no radiation-associated adverse events were reported. In one study of epimacular brachytherapy there was a higher proportion of ocular adverse events (54%) compared to the anti-VEGF alone (18%). The majority of these adverse events were cataract. Overall 5% of the treatment group had radiation device-related adverse events (17 cases); 10 of these cases were radiation retinopathy. There were differences in average number of injections given between the four studies (1072 eyes). In three of the four studies, the anti-VEGF alone group on average received more injections (moderate-certainty evidence). AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: The evidence is uncertain regarding the use of radiotherapy for neovascular AMD. Most studies took place before the routine use of anti-VEGF, and before the development of modern radiotherapy techniques such as stereotactic radiotherapy. Visual outcomes with epimacular brachytherapy are likely to be worse, with an increased risk of adverse events,  probably related to vitrectomy. The role of stereotactic radiotherapy combined with anti-VEGF is currently uncertain. Further research on radiotherapy for neovascular AMD may not be justified until current ongoing studies have reported their results.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD004004
Pages (from-to)CD004004
JournalThe Cochrane database of systematic reviews
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 25 Aug 2020


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