Reducing the risk of death from Pneumocystis jirovecii pneumonia after radical radiation therapy to the lung

J. McAleese, L. Mooney, G. M. Walls*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Aims: Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death. Radiotherapy given in the curative setting is associated with a 3% risk of death from Pneumocystis jirovecii pneumonia (PJP). Prolonged courses of high-dose steroids also increase the risk of PJP. International guidelines recommend the use of chemoprophylaxis with trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole for patients at high risk. We assessed the effect of an intervention designed to reduce the impact of PJP.

Materials and methods: Prophylaxis guidelines were introduced in 2016. Case records of patients treated with radical radiotherapy were examined for the periods 2014 to 2015 (pre-intervention) and 2017 to 2018 (post-intervention). In total, 247 patients were treated pre-intervention and 334 post-intervention.

Results: Freedom from PJP death at 1 year was 96% before intervention and 99% after (hazard ratio 0.3, 95% confidence interval 0.1–0.9, P = 0.029). Although the rate of use of chemoprophylaxis according to the guideline rose from 1% to 13% (P = 0.003), the use of high-dose steroids also fell from 35% to 16% (P < 0.00001).

Conclusions: Reducing radiotherapy-associated infections is an important component of radical treatment in lung cancer. Highlighting chemoprophylaxis guidelines reduced the death rate from PJP, with an associated more judicious use of steroids. Advocating prophylaxis in patients with lymphocyte count <0.6 × 109/l is the next intervention to be studied.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)780-787
JournalClinical Oncology
Issue number12
Early online date10 Jul 2021
Publication statusPublished - 01 Dec 2021


  • Lung cancer
  • Pneumocystis jirovecii
  • lymphopenia
  • radiotherapy
  • steroids


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