Radiotherapy for non-cancer diseases: benefits and long-term risks

Juliette Thariat, Mark P. Little, Lydia B. Zablotska, Pamela Samson, M. Kerry O'Banion, Klervi Leuraud, Carmen Bergom, Gilles Girault, Omid Azimzadeh, Simon Bouffler, Nobuyuki Hamada

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Purpose: The discovery of X-rays was followed by a variety of attempts to treat infectious diseases and various other non-cancer diseases with ionizing radiation, in addition to cancer. There has been a recent resurgence of interest in the use of such radiotherapy for non-cancer diseases. Non-cancer diseases for which use of radiotherapy has currently been proposed include refractory ventricular tachycardia, neurodegenerative diseases (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia), and Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pneumonia, all with ongoing clinical studies that deliver radiation doses of 0.5–25 Gy in a single fraction or in multiple daily fractions. In addition to such non-cancer effects, historical indications predominantly used in some countries (e.g. Germany) include osteoarthritis and degenerative diseases of the bones and joints. This narrative review gives an overview of the biological rationale and ongoing preclinical and clinical studies for radiotherapy proposed for various non-cancer diseases, discusses the plausibility of the proposed biological rationale, and considers the long-term radiation risks of cancer and non-cancer diseases. Conclusions: A growing body of evidence has suggested that radiation represents a double-edged sword, not only for cancer, but also for non-cancer diseases. At present, clinical evidence has shown some beneficial effects of radiotherapy for ventricular tachycardia, but there is little or no such evidence of radiotherapy for other newly proposed non-cancer diseases (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease, COVID-19 pneumonia). Patients with ventricular tachycardia and COVID-19 pneumonia have thus far been treated with radiotherapy when they are an urgent life threat with no efficient alternative treatment, but some survivors may encounter a paradoxical situation where patients were rescued by radiotherapy but then get harmed by radiotherapy. Further studies are needed to justify the clinical use of radiotherapy for non-cancer diseases, and optimize dose to diseased tissue while minimizing dose to healthy tissue.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)505-526
Number of pages22
JournalInternational Journal of Radiation Biology
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2024


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