27 Apr 2021
International journal of radiation oncology, biology, physics
PURPOSE: The respiratory disease COVID-19 reached global pandemic status in 2020. Excessive inflammation is believed to result in the most severe symptoms and death from this disease. Since treatment options for patients with severe COVID-19 related pulmonary symptoms remain limited, whole-lung low-dose radiotherapy is being evaluated as an anti-inflammatory modality. However, there is concern about the long-term risks associated with low-dose pulmonary irradiation. To help quantify the benefit-risk balance of low-dose radiotherapy for COVID-19, we estimated radiation-induced lifetime risks of both lung cancer and heart disease (major coronary events) for patients of different sexes, treated at ages 50 to 85, with and without other relevant risk factors (cigarette smoking and baseline heart disease risk). METHODS AND MATERIALS: These estimates were generated by combining state-of-the-art radiation risk models for lung cancer and for heart disease together with background lung cancer and heart disease risks, and age/sex-dependent survival probabilities for the US population. RESULTS: Estimated absolute radiation-induced risks were generally higher for lung cancer as compared to major coronary events. The highest estimated lifetime radiation-induced lung cancer risks were approximately 6% for female smokers treated between ages 50 and 60. The highest estimated radiation-induced heart disease risks were approximately 3% for males or females with high heart disease risk factors and treated between ages 50 and 60. CONCLUSIONS: The estimated summed lifetime risk of lung cancer and major coronary events reached up to 9% in patients with high baseline risk factors. Predicted lung cancer and heart disease risks were lowest in older non-smoking patients and patients with few cardiac risk factors. These long-term risk estimates, along with consideration of possible acute reactions, should be useful in assessing the benefit-risk balance for low dose radiotherapy to treat severe COVID-19 pulmonary symptoms, and suggest that background risk factors, particularly smoking, should be taken into account in such assessments.