Purpose: To evaluate the long-term changes in pulmonary function tests (PFTs) in patients surviving at least 2 years after definitive radiotherapy (RT) for unresectable lung cancer.
Methods and materials: Between 1992 and 2000, 277 patients were enrolled in a prospective clinical study to relate RT-induced changes in lung function with dosimetric and functional metrics. Of these, 128 received definitive RT for lung cancer, and 13 of these had follow-up PFTs for approximately >/=2 years without evidence of recurrent or progressive cancer. PFTs were obtained before RT and approximately every 6 months after RT. The results were evaluated on the basis of each study's "percentage of predicted" of normal values (i.e., adjusted for age, gender, height), and a patient's sequential examinations were compared with their initial study and a percentage of the baseline value was calculated. Follow-up PFTs were available for a median of 38 months (range 23-95). The median patient age was 65 years (range 40-74), 6 patients were men, and 10 were white. Most had Stage T2-T4 and N2-N3. The median RT dose was 71.4 Gy (range 60-73), 6 had twice-daily RT. Four patients received chemotherapy, one concurrent and three neoadjuvant. None of the patients continued to smoke after their treatment. The median pre-RT PFT results were (percentage of predicted) forced expiratory volume in 1 s, 67% (range 24-121); forced vital capacity, 72% (range 45-116); and diffusing capacity of lung for carbon monoxide, 70% (range 41-129).
Results: At 6 months, all PFT values had declined, with some stabilization by 1 year. However, after 1 year, a gradual reduction occurred in all three parameters. Ten patients (77%) developed RT-induced respiratory symptoms (2 cough only, 8 dyspnea) at 2-21 months (median 5) after treatment. Two patients required inhalers, another required long-term steroids and oxygen. Of the 8 patients with dyspnea, 7 had an increase in symptoms beyond 2 years. No patient died of RT-induced pulmonary insufficiency.
Conclusion: RT caused a decline in PFTs that was apparent at 6 months and continued well beyond 1 year. The continued decline in PFTs is suggestive of progressive/evolving RT-induced lung injury. "Late" pulmonary symptoms have also occurred in these patients. Because of the high mortality rate of unresectable lung cancer, few patients can be evaluated for long-term analysis. Additional studies and pooling of data from multiple institutions may help to clarify better the long-term impact of RT on pulmonary function in this subset of patients.