Purpose: To investigate the clinical, histopathological, and radiological features of radiation pneumonitis arising as a complication of selective internal radiation treatment for liver tumors. To correlate the development of radiation pneumonitis with the degree of lung shunting as assessed by 99mTechnetium-labeled macroaggregated albumin (Tc-MAA) scan.
Methods and materials: Five out of 80 patients who had inoperable hepatic tumors and underwent treatment with intraarterial 90Yttrium- (90Y)-microspheres, developed progressive restrictive ventilatory dysfunction without an infective or cardiovascular cause. Histopathological evidence of a pneumonitis and the presence of microspheres in the lung tissue suggested a diagnosis of radiation pneumonitis. The clinical course, radiological and histopathological findings, percentage tumor shunting to the lungs (lung shunting, as predicted by gamma camera scanning after intraarterial Tc-MAA), and the estimated radiation dose to the lungs were analyzed. In an attempt to reduce pulmonary shunting of the microspheres, three patients received partial hepatic embolization with inert particles before selective internal radiation therapy.
Results: In the five patients who developed radiation pneumonitis, lung shunting percentages (as predicted by Tc-MAA scan) ranged from 13.1 to 45.6% (median 23.7%). The estimated whole lung radiation dose ranged from 10.43 Gy to 36.44 Gy (median 25.04 Gy). Among 75 patients who did not develop radiation pneumonitis, the percentage lung shunting ranged from less than 1% to 15% (median 6%). Nine patients had lung shunting greater than 13% and five of them developed radiation pneumonitis, whereas this developed in none of those in whom shunting was below 13%. The onset of radiation pneumonitis ranged from 1 to 6 months after internal radiation treatment. All five patients exhibited characteristic plain radiographic and computerized tomographic changes comprising extensive consolidation with well-defined lateral margins. Clinical improvement after corticosteroid treatment was seen in two patients. Three patients died from respiratory failure and two from other causes. Partial hepatic arterial embolization reduced the degree of lung shunting to less than 13%, but did not prevent the development of radiation pneumonitis.
Conclusion: Radiation pneumonitis may become a complication after intraarterial 90Y-microspheres treatment when lung shunting, as assessed by Tc-MAA scan, is high (above 13%). Prescribed activity of 90Y and lung shunting of Tc-MAA should be considered together before giving selective internal radiation (SIR) therapy for hepatic tumors, and preferably avoided if the lung shunting is above 13%.