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Nutritional strategies to prevent gastrointestinal toxicity during pelvic radiotherapy

  • Linda J. Wedlake (a1)


Radiotherapy-induced damage to non-cancerous gastrointestinal mucosa has effects on secretory and absorptive functions and can interfere with normal gastrointestinal physiology. Nutrient absorption and digestion may be compromised. Dietary manipulation is an attractive option with sound rationale for intervention. The aim of this review was to synthesise published evidence for the use of elemental formulae, low or modified fat diets, fibre, lactose restriction and probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics to protect the bowel from gastrointestinal side effects during long-course, radical pelvic radiotherapy. Thirty original studies (recruiting n 3197 patients) were identified comprising twenty-four randomised controlled trials, four cohort studies and two comparator trials. Endpoints varied and included symptom scales (Inflammatory Bowel Disease Questionnaire, Common Technology Criteria for Adverse Events, Radiation Therapy Oncology Group) and Bristol Stool Scale. Dietary and supplement interventions were employed with many studies using a combination of interventions. Evidence from RCT was weak for elemental, low or modified fat and low-lactose interventions and modestly positive for the manipulation of fibre during radiotherapy. Evidence for probiotics as prophylactic interventional agents was more promising with a number of trials reporting positive results but strength and strains of interventions vary, as do methodologies and endpoints making it difficult to arrive at firm conclusions with several studies lacking statistical power. This consolidated review concludes that there is insufficient high-grade evidence to recommend nutritional intervention during pelvic radiotherapy. Total replacement of diet with elemental formula could be effective in severe toxicity but this is unproven. Probiotics offer promise but cannot be introduced into clinical practice without rigorous safety analysis, not least in immunocompromised patients.


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Corresponding author: Linda Wedlake, email


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