Medical Definition of Pneumonitis, radiation

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Pneumonitis, radiation: Inflammation of the lungs as a result of radiation. Although the radiation can be from various sources including accidents, today it is usually from radiation therapy.

Radiation pneumonitis typically occurs after radiation treatments for cancers within the chest or breast.

Acute (early) radiation pneumonitis usually manifests itself 4 to 12 weeks after completion of radiation therapy. Symptoms include shortness of breath upon activity, cough, chest pain and low grade fever.

Radiation pneumonitis frequently may also be discovered serendipitously, as an incidental finding on chest X-ray in patients who have no symptoms.

Blood testing can indicate that inflammation is present but there are no specific blood tests that can make the diagnosis.

If radiation pneumonitis persists, it can lead to scarring of the lungs, referred to as radiation fibrosis. Radiation fibrosis typically occurs six to twelve months after the completion of radiation treatments.

Radiation pneumonitis is often reversible with medications that reduce inflammation, such as cortisone drugs (prednisone and others).

Radiation fibrosis is usually irreversible and permanent.

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Reviewed on 12/27/2018

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