Corneal collagen cross-linking for treating keratoconus

Evripidis Sykakis, Rushmia Karim, Jennifer R Evans, Catey Bunce, Kwesi N Amissah-Arthur, Showrob Patwary, Peter J McDonnell, Samer Hamada
Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2015 March 24, (3): CD010621

BACKGROUND: Keratoconus is a condition of the eye that affects approximately 1 in 2000 people. The disease leads to a gradual increase in corneal curvature and decrease in visual acuity with consequent impact on quality of life. Collagen cross-linking (CXL) with ultraviolet A (UVA) light and riboflavin (vitamin B2) is a relatively new treatment that has been reported to slow or halt the progression of the disease in its early stages.

OBJECTIVES: The objective of this review was to assess whether there is evidence that CXL is an effective and safe treatment for halting the progression of keratoconus compared to no treatment.

SEARCH METHODS: We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL; 2014, Issue 7), Ovid MEDLINE, Ovid MEDLINE In-Process and Other Non-Indexed Citations, Ovid MEDLINE Daily, Ovid OLDMEDLINE (January 1946 to August 2014), EMBASE (January 1980 to August 2014), Latin American and Caribbean Health Sciences Literature Database (LILACS) (1982 to August 2014), Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL) (1982 to August 2014), OpenGrey (System for Information on Grey Literature in Europe) (, the metaRegister of Controlled Trials (mRCT) (, ( and the World Health Organisation International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) ( We used no date or language restrictions in the electronic searches for trials. We last searched the electronic databases on 28 August 2014.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) where CXL with UVA light and riboflavin was used to treat people with keratoconus and was compared to no treatment.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently screened the search results, assessed trial quality, and extracted data using standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane. Our primary outcomes were two indicators of progression at 12 months: increase in maximum keratometry of 1.5 dioptres (D) or more and deterioration in uncorrected visual acuity of more than 0.2 logMAR.

MAIN RESULTS: We included three RCTs conducted in Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States that enrolled a total of 225 eyes and analysed 219 eyes. The total number of people enrolled was not clear in two of the studies. Only adults were enrolled into these studies. Out of the eyes analysed, 119 had CXL (all using the epithelium-off technique) and 100 served as controls. One of these studies only reported comparative data on review outcomes. All three studies were at high risk for performance bias (lack of masking), detection bias (only one trial attempted to mask outcome assessment), and attrition bias (incomplete follow-up). It was not possible to pool data due to differences in measuring and reporting outcomes. We identified a further three unpublished trials that potentially had enrolled a total of 195 participants.There was limited evidence on the risk of progression. Analysis of the first few participants followed up to one year in one study suggested that eyes given CXL were less likely to have an increase in maximum keratometry of 1.5 D or more at 12 months compared to eyes given no treatment, but the confidence intervals (CI) were wide and compatible with no effect or more progression in the CXL group (risk ratio (RR) 0.12, 95% CI 0.01 to 2.00, 19 eyes). The same study reported the number of eyes with an increase of 2 D or more at 36 months in the whole cohort with a RR of 0.03 favouring CXL (95% CI 0.00 to 0.43, 94 eyes). Another study reported "progression" at 18 months using a different definition; people receiving CXL were less likely to progress, but again the effect was uncertain (RR 0.14, 95% CI 0.01 to 2.61, 44 eyes). We judged this to be very low-quality evidence due to the risk of bias of included studies, imprecision, indirectness and publication bias but noted that the size of the potential effect was large.On average, treated eyes had a less steep cornea (approximately 2 D less steep) (mean difference (MD) -1.92, 95% CI -2.54 to -1.30, 94 eyes, 1 RCT, very low-quality evidence) and better uncorrected visual acuity (approximately 2 lines or 10 letters better) (MD -0.20, 95% CI -0.31 to -0.09, 94 eyes, 1 RCT, very low-quality evidence) at 12 months. None of the studies reported loss of 0.2 logMAR acuity. The data on corneal thickness were inconsistent. There were no data available on quality of life or costs. Adverse effects were not uncommon but mostly transient and of low clinical significance. In one trial, 3 out of 12 participants treated with CXL had an adverse effect including corneal oedema, anterior chamber inflammation, and recurrent corneal erosions. In one trial at 3 years 3 out of 50 participants experienced adverse events including mild diffuse corneal oedema and paracentral infiltrate, peripheral corneal vascularisation, and subepithelial infiltrates and anterior chamber inflammation. No adverse effects were reported in the control groups.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: The evidence for the use of CXL in the management of keratoconus is limited due the lack of properly conducted RCTs.

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