Why do I need an eye plaque?

Eye plaques are used to treat many different eye conditions. In most cases they are used to treat cancer. Sometimes non-cancer conditions are also treated with eye plaques.

What is plaque radiotherapy?

An eye plaque contains a radioactive source (ruthenium or iodine) which delivers a high dose of radiation to the affected part of the eye, but very low levels of radiation elsewhere. This makes it possible to treat tumours without having to remove the eye.

The surgeon attaches the eye plaque over the white of your eye (sclera).

The treatment involves two operations – one to fit the plaque to the eye and another to remove it once the tumour cells have been killed.

What are the benefits of having plaque radiotherapy?

Compared to other methods, plaque radiotherapy is relatively straightforward and reliable.

What are the risks of having plaque radiotherapy?

  • Risks include local tumour recurrence, double vision and radiation damage to retina and optic nerve, which may result in loss of vision.
  • The nature and likelihood of these side effects depend on many features such as the location and size of the tumour.
  • The chances of survival after this treatment are about the same as after removal of the eye.
  • Eye plaques do not cause hair loss, nausea, brain damage or damage to the other eye.
  • Your eye specialist can give you more information that is specific to you.

What will happen if I don’t have any treatment?

Your tumour may continue to grow. This might make treatment more difficult and could make the eye painful. There may be an increased risk of tumour spread out of the eye and to other parts of the body.

What sort of anaesthetic will I need?

Local or general anaesthetic. This will be determined after discussion with your anaesthetist.

Day of surgery

Your eye plaque is inserted and removed at Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, 32 Gisborne Street, East Melbourne, (03) 9929 8666.

Most patients are admitted to the hospital on the day of surgery.
Please bring with you:

  • Medicare Card and Private Health insurance card if you have one.
  • Any medications you are taking.
  • Personal items you may need while staying at the hospital such as toiletries
  • When going home, a responsible adult must pick you up.
  • Morning admission – No food or drink from midnight the day before.
  • Afternoon admission – Have a light breakfast before 7.00am then no food or drink.
  • If you are on regular medication, you will be told to take this if necessary.
  • A bracelet with your personal details will be attached to your wrist.
  • A nurse and porters will take you to the operating theatre.
  • Your dentures, glasses or hearing aid can stay with you.
  • The nursing staff will put drops into your eye to dilate (enlarge) your pupil.

First operation

This operation is to insert the plaque, and often takes about 45 minutes. Calculations are carried out by physicists to specify how long the plaque needs to stay in place to kill the tumour cells. This varies from 1 to 7 days. No radiation remains in your body afterwards.

Second operation

This operation is to remove the plaque, and usually takes about half an hour.

What should I expect after my operations?

After your operation you will be kept in the theatre recovery room before being transferred to the ward. You will have a pad over the operated eye.

After your first operation, you may feel as if there is something in your eye while the plaque is in place. You may feel some slight discomfort. You will be offered pain-relieving medications if needed.

While the plaque is in place, you will need to stay in your room or near your bed as much as possible. This is to limit the amount of radiation that other patients and visitors might be exposed to. You will be allowed visitors, but they will be asked to sit a few feet away from you. Children and pregnant women should not visit whilst you have the plaque in place.

Ocular radiotherapy does not cause hair loss, brain damage or any generalised side effects. Usually you can return home the day after the plaque is removed.

Disclaimer This document describes the generally accepted practice at the time of publication only. It is only a summary of clinical knowledge regarding this area. The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital makes no warranty, express or implied, that the information contained in this document is comprehensive. They accept no responsibility for any consequence arising from inappropriate application of this information.

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  • Plaque Radiotherapy #188
  • Owner: Orthoptics
  • Last Reviewed: February 7, 2023
  • Next Review: August 11, 2027