Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. It is a common treatment for eye melanoma. Radiation therapy can often save some vision in the eye. Sometimes vision might be lost if the radiation damages other parts of the eye. An advantage over surgery is that the eye structure is preserved, which can result in a better appearance after treatment.
In this form of radiation therapy, the doctor places small seeds of radioactive material directly into or very close to the cancer. The radiation from the seeds travels a very short distance, so most of it will be focused only on the tumor. This has become the most common radiation treatment for most eye melanomas. Studies have shown that in many cases it is as effective as surgery to remove the eye (enucleation).
An operation is needed to put the plaque (a small round piece of metal that holds the radioactive seeds) in place. This surgery usually takes 1 or 2 hours and can be done with local anesthetic (numbing medicine) and sedation. The plaque is usually kept there for 4 to 7 days, depending on the size of the tumor and the strength of the radiation source. You will probably remain in the hospital during this time. Another surgery to remove the plaque is then done. It usually takes less than an hour, and you will probably be able to go home the same day. The full effect of the radiation on the tumor is not seen for 3 to 6 months