Article Abstract

Urinary adverse effects of pelvic radiotherapy

Authors: Daniel Liberman, Brian Mehus, Sean P. Elliott


Objective: Radiation is an integral part of the treatment of many pelvic tumors. The cellular death induced by radiotherapy (RT) benefits cancer control but can also result in adverse effects (AEs) on the organ being treated or those adjacent to it. RT for cancers of the pelvis (bladder, prostate, rectum, uterus or cervix) can result in AEs in the urinary tract. While the acute urinary AEs of pelvic RT are well described, late AEs are less well characterized. The burden of treatment for late AEs may be large given the prevalence of tumors in the pelvis and the high utilization of RT to treat them.
Review: For prostate cancer, grade 1 and 2 urinary AEs following external beam radiation therapy (EBRT) are reported to occur in 20-43% and 7-19%, respectively, with a follow up of ten years. Three-year cumulative risk for grade ≥2 urinary AEs is 28-30%. Following brachytherapy (BT), rates of urinary AEs at five years are reported to be 36%, 24%, 6.2% and 0.1% for Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG) grade 1, 2, 3, and 4, respectively. For bladder cancer, with a median follow-up of five years, 7-12% of patients who receive RT experience urinary AEs of grade 3 or more. For cervical cancer, there remains a 0.25% per year risk of severe AEs for at least 25 years following RT, and ureteral stricture is a well-described AE. For endometrial cancer, severe urinary AEs are rare, but at 13 years of follow up, patients report a significantly worse quality of life with respect to urinary function. In rectal cancer, preoperative RT has a lower risk of AEs than postoperative RT, and few urinary AEs are reported in the literature.
Conclusions: Urinary AEs can manifest long after RT, and there is a paucity of studies describing rates of these long-term AEs. It is important that the possible complications of RT are recognized by providers and properly communicated to patients so that they are able to make informed decisions about their cancer treatment.