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Overview of gastrointestinal toxicity of radiation therapy

Brian G Czito, MD
Jeffrey J Meyer, MD
Christopher G Willett, MD
Section Editor
Reed E Drews, MD
Deputy Editor
Shilpa Grover, MD, MPH, AGAF


Gastrointestinal toxicity can occur following irradiation of thoracic, abdominal, or pelvic malignancies if gastrointestinal structures are located within the radiation therapy (RT) field. These toxicities can limit the maximum tolerated dose of RT and chemotherapy and thus may limit the efficacy of treatment.

This topic will review the adverse effects of RT on the gastrointestinal tract. A more detailed discussion of the indications for RT for specific cancer sites and stages can be found in topic reviews for each cancer site. (See "Radiation therapy techniques in cancer treatment".)


RT can be associated with side effects that can occur at any time during treatment or even years later. For purposes of this topic review, we will adopt the following definitions of these toxicities:

Acute toxicities refer to those with onset during or shortly after the course of treatment.

Late toxicities are those occurring after three months after completion of RT. These often reflect the spectrum of radiation tissue changes that can be lasting and irreversible.

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Feb 10, 2016.
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