Evidence for a positive correlation between in vitro radiosensitivity of normal human skin fibroblasts and the occurrence of subcutaneous fibrosis after radiotherapy

Int J Radiat Biol. 1994 Oct;66(4):407-12. doi: 10.1080/09553009414551361.


A colony-forming assay of human skin fibroblast radiosensitivity was established in our laboratory and applied to primary skin biopsies from 12 women belonging to an unselected group of patients who received postmastectomy radiotherapy 10-12 years prior to this study. The aim was to investigate the relationship between in vitro radiosensitivity and the occurrence of subcutaneous fibrosis after radiotherapy. Early generations of normal skin fibroblasts in exponential growth were irradiated at room temperature at a high dose-rate to estimate the surviving fraction of colony-forming cells after single doses ranging from 1 to 8 Gy. A linear-quadratic cell survival curve was fitted to the data and from these fits the surviving fraction at 3.5 Gy (SF3.5) was estimated. Replicate experiments of different cell generations were made to validate the assay, and the between-patients variability was significantly larger than the assay variability for both SF2(p = 0.002) and SF3.5 (p = 0.04). Patients were treated in the period 1978-1982 with a dose per fraction between 2.7 and 3.9 Gy, a total of 12 fractions at two fractions per week. They were evaluated with respect to the occurrence of marked subcutaneous fibrosis in a total of 36 independent treatment fields. In each treatment field the total dose and dose per fraction at the relevant dosimetric reference depth as well as the length of follow-up were recorded. A previously derived LQ mixture model was applied to these data in order to determine the probability of marked fibrosis in that particular field. From this probability and the actually observed fibrosis, the excess risk of fibrosis was calculated, and this was averaged over the three treatment fields to obtain a single measure of clinical radiosensitivity. Increasing values of SF3.5 were statistically significantly correlated with decreasing probabilities of developing subcutaneous fibrosis (p = 0.014, Spearman's rank correlation test). Thus, this pilot study has demonstrated a positive correlation between in vivo radiosensitivity and normal skin fibroblasts and the clinical expression of subcutaneous fibrosis.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Breast Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Cell Survival / radiation effects
  • Female
  • Fibroblasts / cytology
  • Fibroblasts / radiation effects
  • Fibrosis / etiology
  • Fibrosis / pathology
  • Humans
  • Pilot Projects
  • Radiotherapy / adverse effects*
  • Skin / cytology
  • Skin / radiation effects*