In children with neurofibromatosis type 1 with an isolated optic nerve tumor, treatment choices at the time of diagnosis include: observation alone, surgery or chemotherapy. Radiotherapy is infrequently used due to concerns over long-term medical complications of such treatment, including the development of secondary tumors.
In children with minimally affected vision, especially in those in which it is unclear if the tumor has been present for a long time, usually the first treatment chosen is observation. Patients need to be followed closely by ophthalmologic, neurologic and neuroimaging (MRI) studies, usually every three months for the first year after diagnosis and at least every six months to one year thereafter for approximately three to five years.
In the cases where vision is completely lost in the eye and there is considerable proptosis (eye-bulging), surgery can be performed in isolated optic nerve gliomas to remove the tumor but spare the globe of the eye.
In situations where the vision is retained but the tumor is progressing or where there is extensive intracranial disease, chemotherapy is often extremely effective. The chemotherapy regimen, which has been found to be most successful in children with neurofibromatosis type 1 and optic nerve gliomas, is the combination of carboplatin and vincristine (chemotherapy drugs). This approach was first piloted by Roger Packer, M.D., at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and later at Children's National, This approach is now considered standard of care around the world.
To help cases in which the initial chemotherapy fails, Children's National is evaluating a series of new agents, including biologic agents, which have been chosen to specifically target the tumor while causing fewer medical complications. These are being tested as part of institutional and national clinical trials. Patient eligibility can be determined by contacting the Gilbert Family Neurofibromatosis Institute.