Purpose: To determine whether plasma transforming growth factor-beta (TGF-beta) levels measured before and during radical radiotherapy for lung cancer could be used to predict patients at risk for the development of radiation pneumonitis.
Methods and materials: The first eight patients with lung cancer (nonsmall cell: seven, small cell: one) enrolled in a prospective study designed to evaluate physiological and molecular biologic correlates of radiation induced normal tissue injury are described. The study began in June 1991. All patients were treated with radiotherapy with curative intent. Plasma transforming growth factor-beta levels were obtained before, weekly during, and at each follow-up after treatment. Pretreatment pulmonary function tests and single photon emission computed tomography scans were obtained to assess baseline lung function and were repeated at follow-up visits. Dose-volume histogram analyses were performed to determine the volume of lung which received > or = 30 Gy. Patients were assessed at each follow-up visit for signs and symptoms of pneumonitis.
Results: Five patients developed signs and/or symptoms of pulmonary injury consistent with pneumonitis and three patients did not. In all three patients not developing pneumonitis, plasma TGF-beta levels normalized by the end of radiotherapy. In contrast, four out of five patients who suffered pneumonitis had persistently elevated plasma TGF-beta levels by the end of therapy. This finding appeared to be independent of the volume of irradiated lung.
Conclusions: These results suggest that plasma TGF-beta levels during treatment may be useful to determine which patients are at high risk of developing symptomatic pneumonitis following thoracic radiotherapy. This finding may have implications when planning additional therapy (either chemotherapy or radiotherapy) which may have potentially adverse consequences on the lung.