The lung is very sensitive to the effects of radiation. Radiation pneumonitis is inflammation (not infection) of the lung caused by radiation therapy to the chest. Radiation to the chest can cause the lungs to make less surfactant. Surfactant is a substance that helps keeps the air passages open. If there isn’t enough surfactant, the lungs can’t fully expand.
Radiation pneumonitis is caused by radiation to the chest. It is more likely to occur when:
Symptoms of radiation pneumonitis sometimes start during treatment, but they are more likely to occur about 1–3 months after treatment. Symptoms can include:
Symptoms may go away or continue for several weeks or months, becoming a long-term (chronic) problem.
Report cough or shortness of breath to the radiation oncologist or radiation therapy team. To cope with symptoms, you can:
Doctors may prescribe medicines to reduce congestion (decongestants), decrease cough (cough suppressants), widen the bronchialbronchialThe large tubes, or airways, that branch off from the windpipe (trachea) into the lungs, where they branch into smaller tubes (bronchioles) that end in the alveoli (air sacs). Bronchi carry air to and from the lungs. tubes (bronchodilators) or reduce inflammation (corticosteroidscorticosteroidsAny steroid hormone that acts as an anti-inflammatory by reducing swelling and lowering the body’s immune response (the immune system’s reaction to the presence of foreign substances).). Oxygen therapy may also be needed.
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