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DESCRIPTIONCorneal collagen cross-linking (CXL) is a photochemical procedure that is being evaluated as a method to stabilize the cornea in patients with progressive keratectasia such as keratoconus and pellucid marginal degeneration. CXL may also have anti-edematous and antimicrobial properties and has been evaluated for the treatment of bullous keratopathy and infectious keratitis.
CXL is performed with the photosensitizer riboflavin (vitamin B2) and ultraviolet-A (UVA) irradiation. A common CXL protocol removes about 8 mm of the central corneal epithelium under topical anesthesia to allow better diffusion of the photosensitizer riboflavin into the stroma. Following de-epithelialization, a solution with riboflavin is applied to the cornea (every 1-3 minutes for 30 minutes) until the stroma is completely penetrated. The cornea is then irradiated for 30 minutes with 370 nm UVA, a maximal wavelength for absorption by riboflavin, together with the continued application of riboflavin. The interaction of riboflavin and UVA causes the formation of reactive oxygen species, leading to additional covalent bonds (cross-linking) between collagen molecules that results in stiffening of the cornea. Theoretically, by using a homogeneous light source and absorption by riboflavin, the structures beyond a 400 micron thick stroma (endothelium, anterior chamber, iris, lens, and retina) are not exposed to a UV dose that is above the cytotoxic threshold.
CXL is being evaluated primarily for corneal stabilization in patients with progressive corneal thinning such as keratoconus. CXL may also have anti-edematous and antimicrobial properties.
Keratoconus is a bilateral dystrophy that is characterized by progressive ectasia (paracentral steepening and stromal thinning) that impairs visual acuity. The progression of keratoconus is highly variable. Initial treatment often consists of hard contact lenses. A variety of keratorefractive procedures have also been attempted, broadly divided into subtractive and additive techniques. Subtractive techniques include photorefractive keratectomy or LASIK, but in general results of these techniques have been poor. Implantation of intrastromal corneal ring segments is an additive technique in which the implants are intended to reinforce the cornea, prevent further deterioration, and potentially obviate the need for a penetrating keratoplasty. A penetrating keratoplasty (i.e., corneal grafting) is the last line of treatment. About 20% of patients with keratoconus will require corneal transplantation. All of these treatments attempt to improve the refractive errors, but are not disease modifying. In contrast, CXL has the potential to slow the progression of disease.
Pellucid marginal degeneration is a noninflammatory progressive degenerative disease, typically characterized by bilateral peripheral thinning (ectasia) of the inferior cornea. Deterioration of visual function results from the irregular astigmatism induced by asymmetric distortion of the cornea, and visual acuity typically cannot be restored by using spherocylindrical lenses. Rigid gas permeable contact lenses may be used to treat pellucid marginal degeneration. Intrastromal ring segment implantation, crescentic lamellar keratoplasty, penetrating keratoplasty, and corneal wedge excision have also been proposed.
No UVA devices have received clearance or premarket approval for the treatment of keratoconus in the U.S. A search of clinicaltrials.gov shows ongoing Phase III safety and efficacy trials of UV-A Illumination Systems by Topcon Medical (VEGA) and Avedro Inc. (KXL or UV-X).
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POLICYCorneal collagen cross-linking is considered investigational for all indications.
POLICY GUIDELINESInvestigative service is defined as the use of any treatment procedure, facility, equipment, drug, device, or supply not yet recognized by certifying boards and/or approving or licensing agencies or published peer review criteria as standard, effective medical practice for the treatment of the condition being treated and as such therefore is not considered medically necessary.
The coverage guidelines outlined in the Medical Policy Manual should not be used in lieu of the Member's specific benefit plan language.
POLICY HISTORY07/19/2012: Approved by Medical Policy Advisory Committee.
05/08/2013: Policy reviewed; no changes.
SOURCE(S)Blue Cross Blue Shield Association policy # 9.03.28
CODE REFERENCEThis may not be a comprehensive list of procedure codes applicable to this policy.