Recent advances in the management of radiation colitis

World J Gastroenterol. 2008 Dec 28;14(48):7289-301. doi: 10.3748/wjg.14.7289.


Radiation colitis, an insidious, progressive disease of increasing frequency, develops 6 mo to 5 years after regional radiotherapy for malignancy, owing to the deleterious effects of the latter on the colon and the small intestine. When dealing with radiation colitis and its complications, the most conservative modality should be employed because the areas of intestinal injury do not tend to heal. Acute radiation colitis is mostly self-limited, and usually, only supportive management is required. Chronic radiation colitis, a poorly predictable progressive disease, is considered as a precancerous lesion; radiation-associated malignancy has a tendency to be diagnosed at an advanced stage and to bear a dismal prognosis. Therefore, management of chronic radiation colitis remains a major challenge owing to the progressive evolution of the disease, including development of fibrosis, endarteritis, edema, fragility, perforation, partial obstruction, and cancer. Patients are commonly managed conservatively. Surgical intervention is difficult to perform because of the extension of fibrosis and alterations in the gut and mesentery, and should be reserved for intestinal obstruction, perforation, fistulas, and severe bleeding. Owing to the difficulty in managing the complications of acute and chronic radiation colitis, particular attention should be focused onto the prevention strategies. Uncovering the fibrosis mechanisms and the molecular events underlying radiation bowel disease could lead to the introduction of new therapeutic and/or preventive approaches. A variety of novel, mostly experimental, agents have been used mainly as a prophylaxis, and improvements have been made in radiotherapy delivery, including techniques to reduce the amount of exposed intestine in the radiation field, as a critical strategy for prevention.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antidiarrheals / therapeutic use
  • Antiemetics / therapeutic use
  • Biomedical Research / trends
  • Colitis / etiology*
  • Colitis / prevention & control
  • Colitis / therapy*
  • Colon / surgery
  • Humans
  • Hyperbaric Oxygenation
  • Models, Animal
  • Parenteral Nutrition, Total
  • Radiation Injuries / prevention & control
  • Radiation Injuries / therapy*
  • Radiotherapy / adverse effects*


  • Antidiarrheals
  • Antiemetics