Side effects caused by the concomitant irradiation of normal tissue during radiotherapy for cancer treatment can negatively affect the patient's quality of life and limit the radiation dose that can safely be administered to the tumor. Recently, considerable developments have been achieved in radiotherapy and imaging technologies, allowing the selective sparing of the regions within organs that contribute most to the development of these side effects. This review discusses regional variation in the response to radiation in several organs, including the brain, salivary glands, cardiopulmonary system, pancreas, and bladder. Regional responses are shown to originate from general principles, such as the localization of target cells or function. We conclude that regional responses are a general phenomenon that should be studied in other organs. This will facilitate further optimization of the use of modern radiotherapy technologies.
Normal tissue side effects remain a major concern in radiotherapy. The improved precision of radiation dose delivery of recent technological developments in radiotherapy has the potential to reduce the radiation dose to organ regions that contribute the most to the development of side effects. This review discusses the contribution of regional variation in radiation responses in several organs. In the brain, various regions were found to contribute to radiation-induced neurocognitive dysfunction. In the parotid gland, the region containing the major ducts was found to be critical in hyposalivation. The heart and lung were each found to exhibit regional responses while also mutually affecting each other's response to radiation. Sub-structures critical for the development of side effects were identified in the pancreas and bladder. The presence of these regional responses is based on a non-uniform distribution of target cells or sub-structures critical for organ function. These characteristics are common to most organs in the body and we therefore hypothesize that regional responses in radiation-induced normal tissue damage may be a shared occurrence. Further investigations will offer new opportunities to reduce normal tissue side effects of radiotherapy using modern and high-precision technologies.