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Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2001 Nov 1;51(3):766-74.

Long-term results of irradiation for patients with progressive Graves' ophthalmopathy.

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  • 1Department of Radiation Oncology, Stanford University Medical Center, CA, USA.



To determine the long-term outcome of radiotherapy (RT) in patients with progressively symptomatic thyroid eye disease and to evaluate the potential long-term sequelae.


Four hundred fifty-three patients provided written informed consent and received retrobulbar RT for Graves' ophthalmopathy at Stanford University Medical Center; 197 with 1 year of follow-up were retrospectively analyzed. Of the 197 patients, 189 received RT to the bilateral retrobulbar regions, and 4 received unilateral RT. The technical information was unavailable for 4 patients. Patients were assessed by chart review, telephone interview, questionnaire, and multidisciplinary physician examination. Eye impairment was scored using the SPECS system. The end point review included the before and after treatment SPECS score, surgical intervention, and patient satisfaction. Potential complications, including cataract development, retinopathy, and tumor formation, were investigated. Multivariate analyses were performed to assess the prognostic variables.


Improvement or resolution was 89% for soft-tissue findings; 70% for proptosis; 85% for extraocular muscle dysfunction; 96% for corneal abnormalities; and 67% for sight loss. The response to RT may take >6 months to stabilize. Factors predictive of response varied in the individual SPECS categories but included the initial SPECS score, pretreatment thyroid status, female gender, a 20-Gy RT dose, and a history of hypertension. Nonpredictive factors included a history of tobacco use, diabetes mellitus, steroids, and prior cataracts. Only 16% required surgical intervention to preserve their vision or restore binocular vision. Twenty-two patients (12%) developed cataracts after irradiation (median 11 years). No patient developed a tumor within the RT field during the follow-up period (range 1-29 years). Ninety-eight percent of patients were pleased with their results, and 2% believed their symptoms progressed despite RT.


Retrobulbar irradiation (20 Gy) is safe and effective treatment for progressive Graves' ophthalmopathy, with a 96% overall response rate, 98% patient satisfaction rate, and no irreparable long-term sequelae, with follow-up extending 29 years. The most common late effect observed was cataract development, which occurred more frequently in older patients and was reversible with extraction. Elective surgical intervention after RT should be withheld until patients have demonstrated a plateau in response.

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