October 1, 2008 Ocular oncologists adopted a drug originally intended to treat colon cancer as a treatment for cancers in the eye as well as macular degeneration. The drug reduces abnormal blood vessel growth, which starves tumors and stops blood vessels from leaking. This interrupts the processes that would, if not stopped, greatly damage patients' vision.
Whether it's cancer or macular degeneration, many times patients must face the reality that they will go blind. Now, a new treatment is helping save their sight.
The first thing everyone notices about Dove Karn is her beautiful blue eyes -- and it was in Central Park where she came to terms with the fact that she had melanoma in one of those very eyes.
Her tumor was treated with radiation -- but the side effects could destroy her vision. Ocular oncologist Paul Finger turned to a new drug to stop Dove's vision from slipping away.
"It's a real paradigm shift -- like antibiotics were for infections," says Paul Finger, M.D., an ocular oncologist at the New York Eye Cancer Center in New York City. "This anti-blood-vessel drug is saving people's vision."
Avastin is a shot given directly into the eye. It starves the tumor by stopping the growth of abnormal blood vessels that normally would feed the tumor.
"Avastin stops new blood vessels from growing, but it also prevents new and old blood vessels from leaking -- and the leaking is what takes away most of the patient's vision," Dr. Finger said.
Dove will need to get shots every 6 to 8 weeks, indefinitely -- but she says it's worth it.
"This year was the year that I could say I'm in remission," Karn said. "I have a full-time teaching job. My children are fabulous -- life is wonderful right now."
ABOUT CANCER IN THE EYE: Ocular melanoma -- eye cancer -- is a particularly rare and aggressive form of cancer that attacks the pigment cells in the retina. There are essentially two types of intraocular melanoma: low-grade tumors, which grow slowly and rarely metastasize, and high-grade tumors, which grow more quickly and metastasize at a very early stage. Once a tumor metastasizes, the cancer spreads quickly to the liver and other organs, and a patient has only 6 to 12 months to live in the worst cases, although some can survive for as long as 5 years. The National Eye Institute estimates some 2,000 newly diagnosed cases of ocular melanoma occur per year in the United States and Canada --roughly seven in one million people. It affects people of all ages and races, and is not hereditary. Ocular melanoma kills nearly half of those who develop it.
ABOUT THE RETINA: We can see because light reflects off objects in our surroundings and enters the eye through the pupil. The light is then focused and inverted by the cornea and the lens, and projected onto the back of the eye. There we find the retina, which is lined with a series of photoreceptors that convert the light signal into an electrical signal. Ganglion cells then transmit those signals to the brain via the optic nerve.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.