Systematic review: the efficacy of nutritional interventions to counteract acute gastrointestinal toxicity during therapeutic pelvic radiotherapy


  • This uncommissioned systematic review was subject to full peer-review.

Correspondence to:

Dr H. J. N. Andreyev, The GI Unit, Department of Medicine, Royal Marsden Hospital, Fulham Road, London SW3 6JJ, UK.




Radiotherapy-induced damage to noncancerous gastrointestinal mucosa has effects on secretory and absorptive functions and can interfere with normal gastrointestinal physiology. Nutrient absorption and digestion may be compromised. Dietary manipulation is an attractive option for the prevention and management of symptoms.


To synthesise the evidence for the use of elemental formula low- or modified-fat diets, fibre, lactose restriction and probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics to protect the gastrointestinal tract during pelvic radiotherapy.


Four electronic databases were searched. Randomised controlled trials (RCT), controlled trials (CT) and case series in adult patients receiving radiotherapy for pelvic cancers employing nutritional interventions to reduce gastrointestinal toxicity were included. Methodological quality was assessed using a bespoke tool.


Twenty-two original studies (2446 patients) were identified. Study quality was highly variable with only 37% scoring ≥10 points (maximum 17: bespoke scale). Few studies assessed compliance with the intervention. End-points varied and included symptom scales (IBDQ, CTC, Bristol Stool and RTOG). Evidence from RCTs was weak for elemental, low- or modified-fat, fibre and low-lactose interventions with 1/4, 3/4, 1/2, 0/1 trials respectively reporting favourable outcomes. Evidence for probiotics as prophylactic interventions was more promising (4/5 favourable), but dose, strains and methodologies varied.


There is insufficient high-grade evidence to recommend nutritional intervention during pelvic radiotherapy. Total replacement of diet with elemental formula may be appropriate in severe toxicity. Probiotics offer promise, but cannot be introduced into clinical practice without rigorous safety analysis, not least in immunocompromised patients. The methodological quality of nutritional intervention studies needs to be improved.