Most radiotherapy (RT) involves the use of high doses (>50 Gy) to treat malignant disease. However, low to intermediate doses (approximately 3–50 Gy) can provide effective control of a number of benign conditions, ranging from inflammatory/proliferative disorders (e.g. Dupuytren’s disease, heterotopic ossification, keloid scarring, pigmented villonodular synovitis) to benign tumours (e.g. glomus tumours or juvenile nasopharyngeal angiofibromas). Current use in UK RT departments is very variable. This review identifies those benign diseases for which RT provides good control of symptoms with, for the most part, minimal side effects. However, exposure to radiation has the potential to cause a radiation-induced cancer (RIC) many years after treatment. The evidence for the magnitude of this risk comes from many disparate sources and is constrained by the small number of long-term studies in relevant clinical cohorts. This review considers the types of evidence available, i.e. theoretical models, phantom studies, epidemiological studies, long-term follow-up of cancer patients and those treated for benign disease, although many of the latter data pertain to treatments that are no longer used. Informative studies are summarized and considered in relation to the potential for development of a RIC in a range of key tissues (skin, brain etc.). Overall, the evidence suggests that the risks of cancer following RT for benign disease for currently advised protocols are small, especially in older patients. However, the balance of risk vs benefit needs to be considered in younger adults and especially if RT is being considered in adolescents or children.
Stephanie R McKeown, MA, PhD,corresponding author Paul Hatfield, FRCR, PhD, Robin JD Prestwich, FRCR, PhD, Richard E Shaffer, MRCP, FRCR, & Roger E Taylor, FRCP, FRCR