Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) is associated with an increased risk of vertebral compression fracture. While bone is typically considered radiation resistant, fractures frequently occur within the first year of SBRT. The goal of this work was to determine if rapid deterioration of bone occurs in vertebrae after irradiation. Sixteen male rhesus macaque non-human primates (NHPs) were analyzed after whole-chest irradiation to a midplane dose of 10 Gy. Ages at the time of exposure varied from 45–134 months. Computed tomography (CT) scans were taken 2 months prior to irradiation and 2, 4, 6 and 8 months postirradiation for all animals. Bone mineral density (BMD) and cortical thickness were calculated longitudinally for thoracic (T) 9, lumbar (L) 2 and L4 vertebral bodies; gross morphology and histopathology were assessed per vertebra. Greater mortality (related to pulmonary toxicity) was noted in NHPs <50 months at time of exposure versus NHPs >50 months (P = 0.03). Animals older than 50 months at time of exposure lost cortical thickness in T9 by 2 months postirradiation (P = 0.0009), which persisted to 8 months. In contrast, no loss of cortical thickness was observed in vertebrae out-of-field (L2 and L4). Loss of BMD was observed by 4 months postirradiation for T9, and 6 months postirradiation for L2 and L4 (P < 0.01). For NHPs younger than 50 months at time of exposure, both cortical thickness and BMD decreased in T9, L2 and L4 by 2 months postirradiation (P < 0.05). Regions that exhibited the greatest degree of cortical thinning as determined from CT scans also exhibited increased porosity histologically. Rapid loss of cortical thickness was observed after high-dose chest irradiation in NHPs. Younger age at time of exposure was associated with increased pneumonitis-related mortality, as well as greater loss of both BMD and cortical thickness at both in- and out-of-field vertebrae. Older NHPs exhibited rapid loss of BMD and cortical thickness from in-field vertebrae, but only loss of BMD in out-of-field vertebrae. Bone is sensitive to high-dose radiation, and rapid loss of bone structure and density increases the risk of fractures.

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