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doi: 10.1097/IAE.0000000000000242
Review Article

RETINAL TOXICITIES OF CANCER THERAPY DRUGS: Biologics, Small Molecule Inhibitors, and Chemotherapies

Liu, Catherine Y. MD, PhD*; Francis, Jasmine H. MD; Brodie, Scott E. MD, PhD†,‡; Marr, Brian MD; Pulido, Jose S. MD§; Marmor, Michael F. MD; Abramson, David H. MD†,**

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Author Information

*The Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, University of California, Irvine, California;

Ophthalmic Oncology Service, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York;

Department of Ophthalmology, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, New York;

§Department of Ophthalmology, Mayo School of Graduate Medical Education, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota;

Byers Eye Institute at Stanford, Stanford University School of Medicine, Palo Alto, California; and

**Weill-Cornell Medical College, New York, New York.

Reprint requests: Catherine Y. Liu, MD, PhD, The Gavin Herbert Eye Institute, 850 Health Sciences Road, Irvine, CA 92697-4375; e-mail: yunxianl@uci.edu

Supported by the Charles A. Frueauff Foundation, Rose M. Badgeley Charitable Trust, and Leo Rosner Foundation, Inc.

M. F. Marmor is a consultant for AbbVie, Acucela, Corcept, and Merck. The other authors have no financial/conflicting interests to disclose.

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Abstract

Purpose:

To review reported retinal side effects from current cancer therapy drugs.

Methods:

Retinal toxicities from ophthalmologic or oncologic case reports, case series, and clinical trials were identified by a systematic literature search using Lexicomp and PubMed.

Results:

Four biologics, 8 small molecule inhibitors, and 17 traditional chemotherapy agents had reported retinal side effects. For biologics, interferon alpha 2b was associated with retinopathy, denileukin diftitiox with pigmentary retinopathy, ipilimumab with a Vogt–Koyanagi–Harada–like syndrome, and trastuzumab with retinal ischemia. For small molecule inhibitors, v-raf murine sarcoma viral oncogene homolog B (BRAF) inhibitors were associated with uveitis, mitogen-activated protein kinase/extracellular signal-regulated kinase inhibitors with pigment epithelium detachments, and tyrosine kinase inhibitors with macular edema. Steroid antagonists were associated with crystalline retinopathy and macular edema. Nitrosoureas, platinum analogs, and cytosine arabinoside were associated with retinal vascular occlusions. Antimicrotubular agents were associated with cystoid macular edema but without fluorescein leakage. Retinoic acid derivatives were associated with impaired night vision, and mitotane was associated with a pigmentary retinopathy and papilledema.

Conclusion:

Certain agents used in the treatment of systemic cancer are associated with ocular complications. Awareness of these complications will allow early detections and maybe reversal of some of the ocular problems.

The retina is among the most metabolically active tissues in the body, making it a prime target for unwanted side effects of chemotherapeutic agents. Traditional chemotherapy remains a primary mode of treatment for adult and pediatric cancers, although new, targeted agents are increasingly being used to treat the growing number of cancer patients. In the United States, approximately one of two men and one of three women have a lifetime risk of developing cancer.1

Knowledge of ocular side effects is important to help guide the appropriate treatment plan for each individual. Side effect profiles are key both for early stage disease, where the ability to complete a treatment cycle depends on a patient's ability to tolerate the chemotherapy (or its residual side effects if treatment is successful), and in the metastatic setting, where the quality of life is oftentimes as important for the patient as slowing down disease progression. Treatment plans are therefore tailored to response and to what a patient values most. For example, the overall treatment paradigm for breast cancer is moving away from traditional chemotherapies to newer targeted agents. Tumor markers and individual tolerability are key to the selection of various agents.2 Details of drug toxicity are also guiding treatment protocols. In diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (the most common form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma), adriamycin is a cornerstone of protocols such as rituximab, cyclophosphamide, hydroxydaunorubicin, oncovin, prednisone.3 The overall treatment plan, however, is shaped by the knowledge of its significant cardiotoxic side effects as the lifetime cumulative dose reaches 500 mg/m2.4 Similar knowledge of ocular effects of systemic chemotherapies would be very useful in individualized care, especially with regards to quality of life, although this level of detail is not well documented in the literature.

This review aims to describe documented retinal toxicities associated with currently used chemotherapy and includes the newer targeted agents. Traditional chemotherapies affect all actively dividing cells, including cancer and normal tissue, but some chemotherapies also affect nondividing cells (e.g., alkylating agents). Meanwhile, targeted agents inhibit specific cellular molecules in pathways implicated in cell growth and proliferation (Table 1). Targeted agents include biologics (mostly monoclonal antibodies and immune modulators) and small molecule inhibitors (mostly kinase inhibitors) (Table 1).

Table 1
Table 1
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We have excluded drugs used specifically for intraocular disease (including notably vascular endothelial growth factor inhibitors delivered intraocularly). We found that while large clinical trials occasionally report ocular adverse events (e.g., blurry vision), the specific cause was usually not reported. We have thus elected to include reports of specific retinal findings only.

The text will outline some major drug classes and their importance, but tables list every category and drug to document currently known retinal effects (Tables 2–4). The serious risks to keep in mind are highlighted (Table 5). Because of the large number of drugs and acronyms, an alphabetical table is also provided of all agents researched (with and without toxicities) (Table 6) and abbreviations (Table 7).

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Methods

In total, we reviewed 12 biologics, 20 small molecule inhibitors, and 77 traditional chemotherapy agents currently on formulary and approved for use for all general and ocular oncology services at Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Notable drugs currently in clinical trials were also included. Lexicomp and PubMed were used to identify retinal toxicities. We searched case reports and clinical trials using the following terms for each drug: “eye,” “ocular,” “retina,” “macula,” “optical coherence tomography,” “electroretinogram” (ERG), and “toxicity” in the title or abstract. Additional sources were obtained from previous reviews.6–8 In total, 4 biologics, 8 small molecule inhibitors, and 17 chemotherapy agents had reported retinal side effects. Results using this method are summarized in Tables 2–5. Associated complications from case reports may be circumstantial, and the type of study is described for each drug in the tables.

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Results

Biologics

The main drugs with retinal toxicities are interferon alpha 2b, denileukin diftitiox, and the monoclonal antibodies, ipilimumab and trastuzumab (Table 2).

Table 2
Table 2
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Interferon alpha 2b

This is a recombinant protein widely used in the treatment of inflammatory and infectious diseases, such as hepatitis C. In oncology, it is used in the treatment of lymphoma, multiple myeloma, hairy cell leukemia, and melanoma. Its mechanism of action against these cancers is thought to be immunomodulatory because tumors seem to suppress anticancer immunity.17 Although retinal toxicity is less commonly reported in the literature on cancer usage, interferon alpha 2b is well known to cause significant toxicity in other disease usage. Thus, it has potential danger and patients under treatment need to be monitored. The pathologic findings in cancer patients are consistent with those in hepatitis C patients, suggesting the same mode of toxicity. The main finding in both settings is ischemic retinopathy. In the hepatitis C literature, in which a large number of case reports and case series exist, the incidence of cotton wool spots and intraretinal hemorrhages (some with significant vision loss, most were reversible or mildly symptomatic) with pegylated interferon usage varies from 15% to 86%.18–24 In addition, severe toxicities have been reported, including retinal artery and vein occlusions,25,26 epiretinal membrane development,27 optic disc edema,28 and macular edema.29

In the cancer population, ischemic retinopathy has also been reported with the usage of nonpegylated interferon alpha 2b in doses ranging from 3 to 20 million units per square meter given twice a week to daily.9–11,30 Cotton wool spots and intraretinal hemorrhages have been described in ∼15 cancer cases. All appeared within 6 weeks to 12 months of interferon use and most resolved with cessation of treatment. Similar to severe findings in other usages, central retinal vein occlusion has been reported in 2 cases where high-dose interferon alpha 2b were given to patients who had failed previous alternative treatments.10 Another case reported severe bilateral retinal ischemia in a patient with hypertension and a history of branch retinal vein occlusion who had total body radiation treatment, including of the head.30 These clinical scenarios are not uncommon because many cancer patients undergo multiple treatment modalities causing medical complications that may increase their risk of severe retinal toxicities from interferon usage.

Mechanistically, increased wall shear stress was described in the retinal microcirculation in patients with hepatitis C, suggesting that interferon may induce endothelial dysfunction.31 This is consistent with fluorescein angiography showing poorly perfused areas of retina.30,31 Leukocyte capillary trapping found in rat microcirculation may also explain retinal ischemia.32

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Denileukin diftitiox

This is an immunotoxin composed of diphtheria toxin linked to interleukin-2 and is approved for treating T-cell lymphoma. Several cases of visual loss post-marketing led to an amendment in the Food and Drug Administration–approved product information. A coarse macular pigmentary retinopathy was seen after several cycles of the medication, and it was associated with paracentral scotomas and diminished amplitudes on ERG.12 In two cases, circulating anti-retinal antibodies, including anti-enolase antibodies, were also detected. Although the mechanism of these retinal findings is not fully understood, ∼20% of mice depleted of CD25-positive regulatory T cells developed autoimmune retinitis.33 Fortunately, the incidence of retinopathy is less than 1 in 4,000.13 The mice studies and the presence of anti-retinal antibodies suggest that there might be an autoimmune component to the retinopathy.

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Ipilimumab

This is a cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen-4 (CTLA-4)-directed monoclonal antibody that binds to this surface protein, blocks its inhibitory activity, and ultimately potentiates cytotoxic T-cell activation. It has been shown to improve survival in metastatic melanoma versus first-line chemotherapy treatment.34 Rare but severe cases of uveitis and retinal findings have been reported. A case of bilateral choroidal neovascular membrane was reported in a man taking ipilimumab for metastatic melanoma. As an immunologic mechanism has been proposed with choroidal neovascular membrane involvement in wet age-related macular degeneration, it is possible that an immune reaction is also related in this case.14 Uveitis35 and granulomatous panuveitis associated with serous retinal detachment15 have also been described. The latter case developed neurologic and auditory defects associated with Vogt–Koyanagi–Harada syndrome.

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Trastuzumab

The HER-2–targeted monoclonal antibody, trastuzumab, used in breast cancer treatment has been rarely associated with macular edema and ischemic maculopathy, leading to severe bilateral visual loss.16 The mechanism of retinal ischemia is unclear, and although trastuzumab does have potent anti-angiogenic properties, other targeted vascular endothelial growth factor inhibitors delivered systemically do not seem to cause significant retinal toxicity.

Although biologic agents do cause a number of anterior segment side effects,36 there seem to be fewer reports of retinal toxicity in the literature. This may be because of underreporting. Alternatively, it may be related to the ability of the blood–central nervous system barrier to prevent entry of large molecules, such as monoclonal antibodies. For example, the concentration of monoclonal antibodies is 1,000-fold less in the brain compared with the systemic concentration.37 This is in contrast to the retinotoxic agent cisplatin, which has reported central nervous system penetration from 40% to nearly identical to that of plasma concentration.38,39

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Small Molecule Inhibitors

The main classes of small molecule inhibitors that cause retinal toxicity are the inhibitors of v-raf murine sarcoma viral oncogene homolog B1, also known as BRAF inhibitors, including vemurafenib and dabrafenib, the mitogen-activated protein kinase/extracellular signal-regulated kinase (MEK) inhibitors currently in clinical trials, and the tyrosine kinase inhibitors, crizotinib and imatinib (Table 3).

Table 3
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BRAF inhibitors

Vemurafenib and dabrafenib are potent kinase inhibitors that target a mutated form of the BRAF gene (V600E). BRAF mutations occur in a high percentage of primary and metastatic cutaneous melanoma. The V600E mutation occurs in the majority of BRAF mutations and causes elevated kinase activity, ultimately increasing cellular proliferation and survival. Vemurafenib is a competitive inhibitor of mutant BRAF and has been shown to increase overall survival and progression-free survival in BRAF V600E-positive metastatic melanoma patients.57 Anterior uveitis and intermediate uveitis with cystoid macular edema have been described in a case series of this population of patients (submitted).40 These side effects seem to be reversible. The majority of patients responded to local corticosteroid treatment.

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Mitogen-activated protein kinase/extracellular signal-regulated kinase inhibitors

The MEK inhibitors are currently under investigation for their antiproliferative activity against melanoma, non–small cell lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and breast cancer. The MEKs are downstream factors in the mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway, which regulates cell proliferation and differentiation. About 80% of cutaneous melanomas have genetic mutations in this pathway, including mutations in MEK.58 Several inhibitors are currently in development and clinical trials. The second-generation MEK inhibitor, PD0325901, showed response and disease stabilization in Phase I and II trials in metastatic cutaneous melanoma, but significant ocular toxicity occurred, limiting further development.59 Retinal vein occlusion occurred in 3 of 66 patients in a Phase I trial,42 leading to protocol amendments to exclude predisposing factors, including glaucoma. Two additional cases of retinal vein occlusion were reported in Phase I studies of the selective MEK inhibitors, trametinib (GSK1120212) (1/206 patients)45 and MSC1936369 (1/105 patients).41 Dosing was adjusted from continuous to an intermittent schedule in a Phase II study of PD0325901, and although grade I/II visual disturbances, including blurred vision, were seen, no cases of retinal vein occlusion were reported.60 Central serous retinopathy was seen in 3 of 206 patients using trametinib, with symptom resolution after the drug was discontinued45 (Figure 1A for a case of subretinal fluid associated with MEK inhibitor use). Serous retinal detachment was seen in 1 of 105 patients41 taking MSC1936369 and 10 of 52 patients taking the combination RAF/MEK inhibitor RO5126766.44 The latter were all non–dose-limiting toxicities that resolved either spontaneously or with drug cessation. A Phase III trial of trametinib is currently underway, incorporating data on predisposing factors in the exclusion criteria, including history of retinal vein occlusion, central serous retinopathy, evidence of glaucoma, uncontrolled hypertension, and uncontrolled diabetes.61 Mechanistic information on the cause of retinal toxicity would be useful in light of additional MEK inhibitors that are currently under development.

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Tyrosine kinase inhibitors

Two tyrosine kinase inhibitors have been shown to adversely affect vision. Crizotinib given at the maximal tolerated dose (250 mg 2 times a day) is associated with a 41% (34 of 82 patients) incidence of light perception abnormalities, described as trailing light behind objects.46 There were no funduscopic changes noted on examination of several of these patients. Similarly, 64% of patients reported mild visual symptoms in a study of safety and tolerability, including photopsia, exaggerated brightness sensation, visual field defect, and vitreous floaters.47

Besides the common side effects of epiphora and periorbital edema, imatinib, a BCR-ABL, c-Kit, and platelet-derived growth factor tyrosine kinase inhibitor used in the treatment of chronic myelogenous lymphoma and gastrointestinal stromal tumors, has been associated with retinal hemorrhages several months into treatment.48–51 Most cases resolved after decreasing51 or stopping50 treatment. These incidents seem to be rare.49 For example, in 1 study of 250 patients with chronic myelogenous lymphoma, 2 developed retinal hemorrhages.48 Central macular edema and optic disc edema have also been rarely reported with continued treatment.52–56 Studies of imatinib introduced by intravitreal injection in rabbits also showed retinal necrosis and retinal edema,62 suggesting that direct exposure can be toxic. A cell culture model showed that imatinib induced retinal ganglion cell apoptosis that coincided with abrogation of platelet-derived growth factor signaling.63 Although this may not necessarily explain the mechanism for retinal hemorrhage and macular edema, it does show that imatinib affects retinal cell growth and survival.

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Chemotherapy

In the following sections, agents are discussed by class (Table 4).

Table 4
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Table 4
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Steroid antagonist

The first reports of tamoxifen-associated ocular toxicity appeared in 1978 among women with metastatic breast cancer receiving high-dose tamoxifen (usually >60–100 mg·kg−1·d−1).115 Multiple case reports and series and small cross-sectional and prospective studies have subsequently reported the presence of irreversible refractile or dot-like crystalline retinal deposits, white to yellow in color located predominantly in the paramacular region and often associated with macular edema.112,114,117,118,120,121 Significant vision loss occurred in only a subset of cases, and no consistent ERG changes were seen.119 Although these findings were first reported with high-dose tamoxifen, they were also later reported with low-dose treatment (Table 5). Ultimately, the cumulative dosage of tamoxifen seems to be important, with retinal deposits occurring more often as lifetime dosage approaches 100 g. Thus, the potential retinal toxicity associated with prolonged usage of tamoxifen is important to keep in mind as treatment protocols expand. Although macular edema and reduced acuity may resolve with cessation of tamoxifen, retinal deposits often persist. Several clinical trials involving the use of low daily dosing of tamoxifen (e.g., 20 mg/d, median cumulative dose 8 g123) showed that ocular symptoms in general and retinopathy specifically were uncommon.119,123

Table 5
Table 5
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Tamoxifen is an amphipathic compound structurally similar to drugs with known retinal side effects, such as chloroquine, chlorpromazine, thioridazine, and tilorone, all of which can cause lamellated or crystalloid deposits in the retina.119 Histologically, crystalline deposits from tamoxifen seem to be intracellular inclusions in the nerve fiber and inner plexiform layers of the retina. Although the mechanism of the toxicity is unclear, axonal degeneration has been suggested.119 Similar crystals may appear in the anterior segment, suggesting that the crystals are composed of the drug itself or derivatives of the drug.

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Nitrosourea

Alkylating agents work by alkylation and cross-linking DNA and RNA, interfering with normal function. This cross-linking may develop in dividing and nondividing cells and may form within a single chromosome or bridge distinct chromosomes. The nitrosourea, carmustine, has been used to treat brain gliomas by direct intra-arterial infusion in an effort to increase local concentration. This method has caused significant retinal toxicity, including central retinal artery occlusion,65 blindness (Phase III clinical trial),71 and retinal vasculitis.65–70,72 In addition, several case reports and case series document retinal artery occlusion and hemorrhages with high-dose systemic therapy.74,75 In a prospective trial with >100 bone marrow transplant patients receiving combination chemotherapy, including high-dose carmustine, a quarter of patients developed cotton wool spots or retinal hemorrhages.73 Several other studies in bone marrow transplant patients show similar findings.70,74

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Platinum analogs

The alkylating platinum agents, cisplatin and to lesser extents carboplatin and oxaliplatin, have been shown to cause toxicity in the retina. Intracarotid infusion of cisplatin has been associated with ipsilateral vision loss in 2 of 40 patients in a clinical trial for malignant gliomas.79 Retinopathy that is vascular in origin has been described. Both retinal vascular occlusion and ischemia have been seen with intracarotid and systemic methods of delivery.65,75,82 Additionally, a granular pigmentary retinopathy with intravenous delivery has been well documented.6,84,85,88,89 A case report of inadvertent overdose revealed ERG changes to the on-pathway of the retina.89 Another showed splitting of the outer plexiform layer in the retina, which may explain ERG changes seen with cisplatin toxicity.127 Higher concentrations of cisplatin have also been associated with altered color vision, which can take months to years to return to baseline.86,87,89,90

Less toxicity has been reported with carboplatin and oxaliplatin. Although no isolated incidence of vasculopathy has been described, a case of severe acute orbital inflammation76 and pain and visual disturbance 30 hours after injection77 was seen with intracarotid infusion of carboplatin. Two cases of pigmentary maculopathy similar to cisplatin have also been described.78 A case of central retinal vein thrombosis was noted in a metastatic colon cancer patient concurrently taking oxaliplatin, capecitabine, and bevacizumab.91

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Antimetabolite

Pyrimidine and purine analogs incorporate into DNA and inhibit DNA synthesis. Cytarabine (cytosine arabinoside) is a pyrimidine analog that is used in the induction phase of bone marrow transplant. Thus, most studies come from this particular population. High-dose cytosine arabinoside with total body irradiation given as induction showed a high incidence of retinal microvascular damage, including capillary nonperfusion, dilatation, neovascularization, vitreous hemorrhage, and macular edema.96 As these changes can be seen with radiation-induced retinopathy, and in light of the low dose of radiation given, it was thought that cytosine arabinoside acted as a radiosensitizer.96 A similar case was seen with low-dose brain radiation with subsequent chemotherapy, including cytosine arabinoside for T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.97

The purine analog, fludarabine, has been associated with rapid vision loss in the setting of bone marrow transplant. Three cases have been reported in the literature, all with poor visual outcome.93 Fundus examination showed punctate yellow flecks in the macula. Loss of retinal bipolar and ganglion cells, gliosis within the retina and optic nerve, and optic nerve atrophy were seen on autopsy.

Outside of the setting of bone marrow transplant, pentostatin, another purine analog, has been associated with retinopathy and retinal detachment in the treatment of hairy T-cell lymphoma, although the exact nature of the retinal findings was not detailed.94,95

The antimetabolite, methotrexate, is widely used to treat inflammatory disorders and malignancies. Despite its extensive usage, only two reports of cotton wool spots have been observed, both with chronic daily use to treat rheumatoid arthritis128 and psoriatic arthritis.129 The latter case was associated with reduced rod and cone responses on ERG that resolved when the treatment was stopped.129 Although no other retinal toxicities have been reported with current standard regimens and modes of delivery (orally, intravenous, intramuscular, or intrathecal), toxicities have been reported in the past with hyperosmotic disruption of the blood–brain/blood–ocular barrier. In an attempt to achieve higher intracranial concentrations of methotrexate and cyclophosphamide to treat intracranial malignancies, mannitol was used to hyperosmotically disrupt the blood–brain barrier.92 In this setting, a case series of 11 patients showed foveal and parafoveal retinal pigmentary changes associated with mild functional vision loss.92 Awareness of this potential side effect may be helpful in future treatment regimen design.

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Antimicrotubular

Docetaxel and paclitaxel are antimicrotubular agents used in the treatment of breast and ovarian cancers. Both agents have been reported to cause bilateral cystoid macular edema without evidence of leakage by fluorescein angiography98–100,102,103 (Figure 1B) or with minimal leakage on late frames.101 Optical coherence tomography showed fluid accumulation in cystoid spaces in the outer and inner plexiform layers.100,101,103 Macular edema resolved with discontinuation of the chemotherapy.99,101,102 Acetazolamide has been reported to help in these eyes.98,100

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Mitotane

This agent is used as postsurgical adjuvant therapy or as palliation for adrenocortical tumors. Adrenal suppression was first described in dogs, where a precursor drug caused markedly decreased secretion of 17-hydroxycorticosteroids in association with degeneration of the zona reticularis and zona fasciculata without affecting the zona glomerulosa.107 Its derivative, mitotane, is used for treatment in humans. Visual side effects have been occasionally reported. In 2 larger studies, toxic retinopathy with features of optic disc swelling and retinal hemorrhages was seen in several patients (2 of 138 patients and 3 of 19 patients).106,107 Dosage was titrated to the maximum tolerated, usually 8 g to 10 g daily. At these levels, most patients experienced gastrointestinal side effects (mostly nausea and vomiting) and central nervous system symptoms (such as somnolence), which were reversible.107 A pigmentary retinopathy associated with ERG changes was also reported in a patient treated with mitotane concurrently with intra-arterial cisplatin.109

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Retinoic acid derivative

Retinoids are synthetic analogs of vitamin A that inhibit binding of retinol to retinol-binding protein, lowering serum vitamin A.130 The derivative, fenretinide, has been proposed as a treatment for Stargardt disease and age-related macular degeneration. The proposed mechanism is to reduce the accumulation of toxic molecules, such as fluorophore A2E. Another derivative, isotretinoin, is commonly used in the treatment of severe recalcitrant nodular acne. Both have associated retinal toxicities. In oncology, retinoids are used to induce differentiation/maturation of the highly proliferative immature promyelocyte cells in acute promyelocytic leukemia, a subtype of acute myelogenous leukemia. This drug is successful in curing 80% to 95% of cases of acute promyelocytic leukemia.131–133

All-trans retinoic acid, or tretinoin, is the retinoic acid derivative currently used to treat acute promyelocytic leukemia. Two cases of Terson syndrome, suggested by intracranial hypertension with associated swollen optic discs and splinter and flame hemorrhages, have been described.111 Although no direct retinal toxicity has been reported, it must be taken in the context of the retinal toxicities reported with other members of this class. Night blindness134–136 and scotopic ERG changes134−137 occurred with fenretinide in past clinical trials for the treatment of multiple cancers (not currently approved for oncological use). Night blindness with abnormal dark adaptation curves and ERGs consistent with cone and rod dysfunction have also been reported in isotretinoin use for cystic acne.138–140 Awareness of abnormalities in related members of the retinoid derivatives is important as treatment regimens for hematological cancers expand.

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Vinca alkaloid

Vincristine is a microtubule inhibitor used to treat several hematologic malignancies among others. Retinal side effects are very rare. There has been one case of night blindness following vincristine treatment in a young, previously healthy patient who received 2 cycles of multiagent chemotherapy, including vincristine (along with dacarbazine and bleomycin) for the treatment of malignant melanoma (vincristine-sulfate at dose of 0.032 mg/kg × 5 days per cycle).126 Studies of retinal function were significant for their similarity to recessively inherited stationary night blindness—dark adaptation curve was monophasic without evidence of a scotopic branch, b-wave of ERG was depressed while a-wave remained normal, rhodopsin kinetics were normal, and spectral threshold data showed residual rod-mediated vision.126 The dosage was not particularly high compared with standard treatment regimens. Although there was no evidence of night blindness by history before the start of treatment, it is difficult to tell whether these findings were related to vincristine or progression of disease. Indeed, since this report was published, the paraneoplastic syndrome, melanoma-associated retinopathy, has been recognized and validated in a number of melanoma patients. Melanoma-associated retinopathy produces a clinical picture that mimics stationary night blindness, and this vincristine case may represent melanoma-associated retinopathy rather than drug toxicity. Vincristine has also been associated with a few case reports of optic neuropathy in pediatric patients that resolved with discontinuation of treatment.141–143 Histologic sections from one adult patient showed loss of ganglion cells in the macular region and corresponding optic nerve atrophy.144

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Conclusion

Whereas some retinal side effects are reversible, others can persist. Those agents that raise the greatest concern either because of the severity or frequency of retinal side effects are listed in Table 5. An alphabetized list of drugs and a reference list of abbreviations are included in Table 6 and Table 7 for quick reference.

Table 6
Table 6
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Table 6
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Table 7
Table 7
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Knowledge of retinal toxicities from chemotherapeutic agents benefits both the ophthalmologist in managing symptoms and the oncologist in choosing an appropriate regimen to fit a patient's needs. In addition, this knowledge can be helpful in deciding if visual symptoms or vision loss is because of disease or treatment. Continued documentation of ocular side effects will be important in optimizing cancer care, especially as newer biologics and targeted molecules become available.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank Kevin Dai and Lira Xing for their suggestions in preparing the manuscript and Charles A. Frueauff Foundation, Rose M. Badgeley Charitable Trust, and Leo Rosner Foundation, Inc, for their support.

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Keywords:

cancer; chemotherapy; drug toxicity; monoclonal antibody; retinal toxicities; side effects; tyrosine kinase inhibitors; retina

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