Normal tissue injury after radiation therapy (RT) can be defined based on either clinical symptoms or laboratory/radiologic tests. In the research setting, functional imaging (eg, single-photon emission computed tomography [SPECT], positron-emission tomography [PET], and magnetic resonance imaging [MRI]) is useful because it provides objective quantitative data such as metabolic activity, perfusion, and soft-tissue contrast within tissues and organs. For RT-induced lung, heart, and parotid gland injury, pre- and post-RT SPECT images can be compared with the dose- and volume-dependent nature of regional injury. In the brain, SPECT can detect changes in perfusion and blood flow post-RT, and PET can detect metabolic changes, particularly to regions of the brain that have received doses above 40 to 50 Gy. On MRI, changes in contrast-enhanced images, T1 and T2 relaxation times, and pulmonary vascular resistance at different intervals pre- and post-RT show its ability to detect and distinguish different phases of radiation pneumonitis. Similarly, conventional and diffusion-weighted MRI can be used to differentiate between normal tissue edema, necrosis, and tumor in the irradiated brain, and magnetic resonance spectroscopy can measure changes in compounds, indicative of membrane and neuron disruption. The use of functional imaging is a powerful tool for early detection of RT-induced normal tissue injury, which may be related to long-term clinically significant injury.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
- Cancer Research