Overview

Radiation enteritis is inflammation of the intestines that occurs after radiation therapy.

Radiation enteritis causes diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps in people receiving radiation aimed at the abdomen, pelvis or rectum. It's most common in people receiving radiation therapy for cancer in the abdomen and pelvic areas.

For most people, radiation enteritis is temporary, with inflammation usually subsiding several weeks after treatment ends. But for some, radiation enteritis may continue long after radiation therapy ends or may develop months or years after treatment.

Chronic radiation enteritis can cause complications such as anemia, diarrhea or bowel obstruction.

Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms until the inflammation heals. In severe cases, tube feeding or surgery to remove sections of the intestine may be necessary.

Symptoms

The symptoms of radiation enteritis include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps. Symptoms occur because of irritation of the intestines from radiation therapy for cancer. Symptoms usually go away several weeks after treatment ends. But sometimes they last longer. Radiation enteritis that goes on for longer can cause anemia and bowel obstruction.

Risk factors

The risk of radiation enteritis is higher in people undergoing radiation treatments for cancers in the belly and the pelvis. Radiation enteritis occurs because radiation therapy can cause irritation of the intestines.

Radiation enteritis care at Mayo Clinic

May 21, 2022

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  1. Yeo CJ, ed. Radiation enteritis. In: Shackelford's Surgery of the Alimentary Tract. 8th ed. Elsevier; 2019. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Jan. 12, 2022.
  2. Roberts I. Diagnosis and management of chronic radiation enteritis. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Jan. 12, 2022.
  3. Gastrointestinal complications (PDQ). National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects/constipation/GI-complications-hp-pdq. Accessed Jan. 12, 2022.
  4. Loge L, et al. Radiation enteritis: Diagnostic and therapeutic issues. Journal of Visceral Surgery. 2020; doi:10.1016/j.jviscsurg.2020.08.012.
  5. Fay Hale M. Radiation enteritis: From diagnosis to management. Current Opinion in Gastroenterology. 2020; doi:10.1097/MOG.0000000000000632.
  6. Ami TR. Allscripts EPSi. Mayo Clinic. March 11, 2022.

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