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Eur Respir J. 1999 Apr;13(4):727-32.

Bilateral lymphocytic alveolitis: a common reaction after unilateral thoracic irradiation.

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Servicio de Neumología, Hospital General Universitario, Alicante, Spain.


The main aim of the present study was to assess the early diagnostic value of bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) in radiation-induced lung injury in patients with breast carcinoma. Twenty-six females receiving postoperative radiotherapy for breast cancer were evaluated before and 0, 15, 30, 60, and 180 days after radiotherapy. History, physical examination, chest radiographs, and pulmonary function tests were obtained. BAL, including lymphocyte subsets analysis, was limited to the second evaluation after radiotherapy. A group of 21 healthy females were used as control. Findings after radiotherapy in asymptomatic patients were compared with findings in a group of patients with radiation pneumonitis. Irradiated patients showed a significantly (p<0.01) greater percentage (29.5+/-15.7%) of BAL lymphocytes than controls (6.2+/-3.3%). No statistical differences existed in BAL findings between the irradiated and unirradiated sides of the chest. Percentages of BAL lymphocytes did not differ significantly between patients who developed subsequent pneumonitis (24.5+/-13.5%) and those who did not develop pneumonitis (32.8+/-16.5%). Patients with pneumonitis at the time of BAL had significantly higher (p<0.05) alveolar CD4 subset cells (24.8+/-10.2%) than asymptomatic patients (15.2+/-8.9%). Maximal reductions in total lung capacity (p<0.01), and residual volume (p<0.05) occurred 60 days after irradiation. The early lymphocytic alveolitis induced by unilateral thoracic radiotherapy in most patients with breast cancer is always bilateral and does not predict the subsequent development of radiological evidence of pneumonitis.

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