Radiation-Induced Lung Injury: Assessment and Management

Chest. 2019 Jul;156(1):150-162. doi: 10.1016/j.chest.2019.03.033. Epub 2019 Apr 15.


Radiation-induced lung injury (RILI) encompasses any lung toxicity induced by radiation therapy (RT) and manifests acutely as radiation pneumonitis and chronically as radiation pulmonary fibrosis. Because most patients with thoracic and breast malignancies are expected to undergo RT in their lifetime, many with curative intent, the population at risk is significant. Furthermore, indications for thoracic RT are expanding given the advent of stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) or stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) for early-stage lung cancer in nonsurgical candidates as well as oligometastatic pulmonary disease from any solid tumor. Fortunately, the incidence of serious pulmonary complications from RT has decreased secondary to advances in radiation delivery techniques. Understanding the temporal relationship between RT and injury as well as the patient, disease, and radiation factors that help distinguish RILI from other etiologies is necessary to prevent misdiagnosis. Although treatment of acute pneumonitis is dependent on clinical severity and typically responds completely to corticosteroids, accurately diagnosing and identifying patients who may progress to fibrosis is challenging. Current research advances include high-precision radiation techniques, an improved understanding of the molecular basis of RILI, the development of small and large animal models, and the identification of candidate drugs for prevention and treatment.

Keywords: cancer; fibrosis; lung injury; pneumonitis; radiation; thoracic.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Lung Injury / etiology*
  • Lung Injury / physiopathology
  • Lung Injury / therapy
  • Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / etiology
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / physiopathology
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / therapy
  • Radiation Injuries / etiology*
  • Radiation Injuries / physiopathology
  • Radiation Injuries / therapy
  • Radiation Pneumonitis / etiology
  • Radiation Pneumonitis / physiopathology
  • Radiation Pneumonitis / therapy