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Radiation May Slow Vision Loss

Radiation may be a new weapon against a common cause of blindness reports CBS This Morning Health Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay.

A study presented at the Radiological Society of North America in December suggested that low doses of radiation can slow vision loss in many patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

The condition affects some 170,000 Americans, usually those over age 60. Macular degeneration affects more women than men.

Dr. Robert Sagerman, who headed the study, found that treating patients with low doses of radiation once a day for up to two weeks helped stabilize their vision. Radiation only works in the "wet" type of age-related macular degeneration, in which tiny blood vessels break through the membrane behind the retina and leak blood and fluid, blurring central vision, but leaving peripheral vision intact.

The study followed 146 people who underwent radiation therapy at the State University of New York, Syracuse. Ninety percent of those treated experienced stabilized vision after six months, with no side effects, said Sagerman, professor of radiation oncology at the Health Science Center at the SUNY, Syracuse.

The standard treatment for AMD has been laser therapy, which Medicare covers. However, doctors say that only 15 to 20 percent of patients can have the laser treatment.

The study did not have a control group of patients who received no radiation treatment. Some doctors have suggested that randomized clinical trials are needed to determine the therapy's effectiveness before it can be recommended, also warning that its long-term effects are unknown.

Early symptoms of AMD include decreasing or blurred central vision and straight lines that appear wavy. Since "wet" AMD can progress quickly, physicians suggest that anyone experiencing problems should consult an opthalmologist as soon as possible.

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