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Volume 16, Number 4, 2011

Medical management of the acute radiation syndrome

Mario López, Margarita Martín


The acute radiation syndrome (ARS) occurs after whole-body or significant partial-body irradiation (typically at a dose of >1 Gy). ARS can involve the hematopoietic, cutaneous, gastrointestinal and the neurovascular organ systems either individually or in combination.

There is a correlation between the severity of clinical signs and symptoms of ARS and radiation dose. Radiation induced multi-organ failure (MOF) describes the progressive dysfunction of two or more organ systems over time. Radiation combined injury (RCI) is defined as radiation injury combined with blunt or penetrating trauma, burns, blast, or infection. The classic syndromes are: hematopoietic (doses >2–3 Gy), gastrointestinal (doses 5–12 Gy) and cerebrovascular syndrome (doses 10–20 Gy). There is no possibility to survive after doses >10–12 Gy.

The Phases of ARS are—prodromal: 0–2 days from exposure, latent: 2–20 days, and manifest illness: 21–60 days from exposure.

Granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF) at a dose of 5 μg/kg body weight per day subcutaneously has been recommended as treatment of neutropenia, and antibiotics, antiviral and antifungal agents for prevention or treatment of infections.

If taken within the first hours of contamination, stable iodine in the form of nonradioactive potassium iodide (KI) saturates iodine binding sites within the thyroid and inhibits incorporation of radioiodines into the gland.

Finally, if severe aplasia persists under cytokines for more than 14 days, the possibility of a hematopoietic stem cell (HSC) transplantation should be evaluated.

This review will focus on the clinical aspects of the ARS, using the European triage system (METREPOL) to evaluate the severity of radiation injury, and scoring groups of patients for the general and specific management of the syndrome.

Signature: Rep Pract Oncol Radiother, 2011; 16(4) : 138-146

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