Gastrointestinal problems after pelvic radiotherapy: the past, the present and the future

Clin Oncol (R Coll Radiol). 2007 Dec;19(10):790-9. doi: 10.1016/j.clon.2007.08.011. Epub 2007 Sep 27.


Up to 300,000 patients per year undergo pelvic radiotherapy worldwide. Nine out of 10 will develop a permanent change in their bowel habit as a result. Five out of 10 of all patients will say that this change in their bowel habit affects quality of life and two to three out of 10 will say that this effect on quality of life is moderate or severe. Between one in 10 and one in 20 patients will develop very serious complications within the first 10 years after treatment. This number will increase to two out of 10 by 20 years from the end of treatment. Although research carried out into the basic molecular, cytokine and physiological changes underlying radiation-induced bowel symptoms and the optimal treatment that should be provided to symptomatic patients is scant, it does seem probable that a significant proportion of these patients can be cured or improved by specialist gastroenterological intervention. However, most patients never get referred to a specialist gastroenterologist and research into late radiation bowel damage has not been considered a priority. With the advent of more effective cancer therapies leading to greater numbers of affected long-term survivors, much more emphasis is urgently required to provide better information to patients at the start and after treatment, developing techniques that might reduce the frequency of significant bowel toxicity and researching better ways of measuring and treating late-onset side-effects.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / etiology
  • Humans
  • Intestines / radiation effects*
  • Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Pelvis / radiation effects
  • Quality of Life
  • Radiotherapy / adverse effects*