Lung radiation helps coronavirus pneumonia patients recover faster, study says

Doctors say the 10-minute treatment is well tolerated even by elderly patients

Low-dose radiation therapy to the lungs has shown to speed recovery in hospitalized COVID-19 patients with pneumonia, a new study found.

The research team from Emory University’s Winship Cancer Institute in Georgia treated 10 patients with the therapy and compared clinical outcomes to 10 patients in a control group.

The findings, which have not been yet peer-reviewed, were published on Tuesday in the medRxiv preprint server.


The team suggested the therapy could reduce severe inflammation associated with coronavirus and improve patients' outcomes.

The radiation therapy allowed for a significantly faster clinical recovery, researchers wrote. Those treated with radiation recovered in three days, as opposed to 12 days in the control group.

Time to hospital discharge was reduced by eight days – 12, compared to 20 in the control group – and intubation was reduced to 10 percent of patients, compared to 40 percent for the control group.

“This report suggests the potential ability to improve upon the results of recent randomized trials with a 10-minute treatment that carries minimal toxicity and is well tolerated even in the elderly and fragile patients,” the study's authors wrote.

However, other critical care physicians were less convinced. Doctors (who were not involved in the study) from Johns Hopkins Medicine and the Cleveland Clinic raised caution due to the study’s small sample size.

“We have to evaluate this kind of study very carefully,” Dr. Humberto Choi, pulmonologist and critical care expert at the Cleveland Clinic, told Fox News in an email statement. “It is not uncommon for us to find positive results in small studies like this one, and then later, in larger randomized controlled trials, find that the positive benefit is not confirmed.”

Choi also noted radiation can result in side effects like lung inflammation, scarring and there is also a risk of developing cancer. He said it can sometimes take months or years to see the side effects.

"I don’t know if this trial is going to convince anyone to pursue this where the steroids (referring to dexamethasone) are cheap and can be given right in the ICU room and have so much better outcomes than the radiation trial," Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, associate professor and pulmonary and critical care medicine physician at Johns Hopkins Medicine, told Fox News.

Earlier last month, researchers at the University of Oxford announced that dexamethasone was found to reduce deaths in patients receiving oxygen by one-fifth and those on ventilators by one-third.

While Galiatsatos applauded the authors for pursuing the trial, he said the trial is going to need a larger group to see any shift in medical management and to see whether radiation is effective overall.

“10 patients is not going to move mountains, especially when you have other things that have come up that are much more promising," he said.

“Ongoing international efforts to evaluate the optimal role of LD-RT (low-dose radiation therapy) in COVID-19 pneumonia are justified,” the Emory researchers wrote in the study.

An active Phase 3 trial will compare this therapy to doctors’ choice of COVID-19-directed therapies in these patients, the researchers wrote.