What is Radiation-Induced Pulmonary Fibrosis?

Pulmonary fibrosis (PF) is part of a larger group of more than 200 interstitial lung diseases (also known as ILDs) that are characterized by inflammation and/or scarring in the lung. In ILDs, the injury and damage occurs in the walls of the air sacs of the lung, as well as in the tissue and space around these air sacs. When an interstitial lung disease includes scar tissue in the lung, we call it pulmonary fibrosis.

Radiation to the chest can sometimes injure the lung and cause pulmonary fibrosis. Conditions that are treated with radiation to the chest include lymphoma; Hodgkin’s disease; or breast, lung, and other cancers.




What are the Symptoms of Radiation-Induced Pulmonary Fibrosis?

Early in the disease, people with radiation-induced pulmonary fibrosis may not experience symptoms or might have a bothersome cough. As the disease progresses, breathlessness during exercise and daily activities can be common. Fatigue, depression, or anxiety are also commonly experienced by people living with pulmonary fibrosis.


How is Radiation-Induced Pulmonary Fibrosis Diagnosed?

When a doctor or other healthcare provider suspects that a patient has ILD, they will collect information about the patient’s medical and personal history, work and home environment, hobbies, and illness that may be present in the family (see: Diagnosis). This can help a doctor identify exposures or other diseases that might have caused lung injury and scarring. The doctor will also often order pulmonary function tests, a chest x-ray, blood work, and a high-resolution CT scan.

Pulmonary function tests measure how much air the lungs can hold, and how the lungs are working overall. Scarring can cause the lungs to shrink, and it can also make them stiff and unable to fully expand. This means the lungs are able to hold less air. Scar tissue may also affect the ability of the lungs to transfer oxygen to the bloodstream.

A high-resolution computed tomography (HRCT) scan is a special type of x-ray that shows fine detail of the lung tissue. On a CT scan (also known as CAT scan) healthy lung tissue looks nearly black, and scar tissue and inflammation appear grey or white.

Pulmonary fibrosis caused by radiation therapy usually occurs in the specific areas where radiation therapy was used and has a distinct scarring pattern.

How is Radiation-Induced Pulmonary Fibrosis Treated?

Supplemental oxygen, pulmonary rehabilitation, and management of symptoms are important treatment options for many types of pulmonary fibrosis, depending on how severe the disease is. Smoking cessation and routine vaccinations are important parts of living with pulmonary fibrosis. People living with radiation-induced pulmonary fibrosis should be monitored for signs or symptoms of progression.

What Should I Do Next?

If you have been recently diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, consider making an appointment with a pulmonologist who has experience caring for patients with PF. A knowledgeable team of experts will help make sure you receive an accurate diagnosis and the most up-to-date treatments and management recommendations. To assist you in finding pulmonologists nearest to your home who provide expert care to patients with PF, the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation established the PFF Care Center Network, which includes 68 medical centers throughout the United States. You can search for the PFF Care Center Network medical center closest to you here.  

We also recommend that you join a pulmonary fibrosis support group. Connecting with other individuals facing the same illness can help you and your family feel less alone in your journey with pulmonary fibrosis. Support groups can supplement the care you receive from your healthcare team by providing emotional support and education. You can find a list of support groups here.

Support groups can help those living with pulmonary fibrosis to:

  • Learn about their disease and available treatments
  • Feel supported by others who share similar experiences living with PF
  • Learn to navigate the healthcare system more effectively
  • Improve coping skills, connect with helpful resources, and more

Contact the PFF Help Center by calling 844.TalkPFF (844.825.5733) or email help@pulmonaryfibrosis.org. We can help answer your questions, discuss your concerns, and connect you with resources.


Schwarz MI, King TE. Interstitial Lung Disease. Fifth Edition. Shelton, CT: People’s Medical Publishing House-USA; 2011. 657-658 p.

Educational Materials

Find reliable information and trusted resources that can help you learn about pulmonary fibrosis and live better with PF.


  • Pulmonary Fibrosis Information Guide

    Our comprehensive guide provides reliable information about pulmonary fibrosis, the diagnostic process, treatment options, and more.
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  • Oxygen Basics Booklet

    This booklet provides an in-depth overview of the the basics of supplemental oxygen, including equipment, getting started, Medicare information, and traveling.
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PFF Help Center

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