The effect of whole lung irradiation on lung function was investigated in 48 children treated for Wilm's tumour with pulmonary metastases. Lung function tests were performed before irradiation and were repeated annually for as long as possible, the length of follow-up varying from two to 17 years. A reduction in both lung volume and in dynamic compliance was clearly observed. In some patients these changes occurred in the early post-irradiation months, but in most the decrease observed progressed over longer periods of time. Static pressure volume curves, blood-gases, and carbon monoxide transfer were normal. These findings make it unlikely that post-irradiation pulmonary fibrosis was involved. Another explanation for the decreased lung volume and dynamic compliance might be failure of alveolar multiplication. Muscular injury is unlikely as the patients were able to produce normal transthoracic pressures. A failure of chest wall growth is also possible and would explain the progressive restrictive impairment but not the early lung function changes. It is suggested that the early effects detected in some patients were the result of lung injury and that later effects resulted from impaired chest wall growth.
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