Background and purpose: Radiation treatment of the elderly (> 75 years) is often modified due to an assumed decrease in normal tissue tolerance in this age group. Since more radiobiological data concerning normal tissue toxicity as a function of age are needed, a histological study of age-related radiation changes of the rectum was performed. Materials and methods: The rectum of young and old female Wistar rats (12 and 78 weeks, respectively) was irradiated with single doses of 22 and 39 Gy. The field size was 1.5 × 2.0 cm. The animals were sacrificed at 1, 2, 4 and 10 weeks after treatment. To evaluate radiation damage, 12 histological parameters were scored in four areas of the rectum. A total radiation injury score was calculated. The number of proliferative epithelial cells was evaluated by 5-bromo-2′-deoxyuridine labeling. Results: Some age-related histological differences were observed; especially, the incidence of ulceration and vascular occlusion was higher in the older group. In the low dose group of the older animals, 60% showed ulceration, which was 0% for the young low dose animals. Severe vascular changes occurred early and were more extensive in older animals (4 weeks) than in the younger group (10 weeks). In the area adjacent to the treatment field, cell proliferation increased significantly in older rats at 1 week after 22 Gy, which did not occur in the young group. Conclusions: Discrete radiation-induced histological differences were observed between the rectum of young and old Wistar rats, especially in the development of ulceration and vascular changes. Although the survival of these Wistar rats in earlier studies was not affected by age, the impact of the observed histological differences for their importance in the long-term is currently being investigated.

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Radiotherapy & Oncology
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Olofsen-Van Acht, M., van Hooije, C. M., van den Aardweg, G., Levendag, P., & van Velthuysen, L. (2001). Effect of age on radiation-induced early changes of rat rectum. A histological time sequence. Radiotherapy & Oncology, 59(1), 71–79. doi:10.1016/S0167-8140(01)00278-X