Fighting the side effects of radiation

The following news tip is based on abstracts to be presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ASTRO), October 19 23, 2003 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The information described below is embargoed until the date and time of presentation.

If facing their cancer weren't enough, brain tumor patients undergoing radiation also risk life-threatening infections such as pneumonia as their immune systems are suppressed by the corticosteroids used to ward off brain swelling and treatment-related headaches. Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center radiation oncologists have found that monitoring patients' immune cell counts and prophylactic antibiotics help prevent potentially fatal side effects.

The researchers measured the number of certain immune cells present in the blood of 82 brain cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy. Patients whose counts fell below a certain level (200/mm3) received prophylactic antibiotics. No patients developed pneumonia, other serious infections or side effects from the antibiotic.

"It's important to follow how these patients react to the high levels of corticosteroids given during their treatment," says Lawrence Kleinberg, M.D., assistant professor of oncology and neurological surgery in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center. In a future study, the research team will determine the most appropriate CD34 monitoring schedule.


Contact: Vanessa Wasta
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

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