Bleomycin lung toxicity

Last revised by Yuranga Weerakkody on 10 Jul 2020

Bleomycin lung toxicity is an uncommon but recognized complication that can occur with the chemotherapeutic drug bleomycin.

Bleomycin is an antitumour antibiotic which was initially isolated from a strain of Streptomyces verticillus in 1966. It is commonly used (either alone or in combination with other chemotherapeutic agents) in the treatment of squamous cell carcinomas (of the head and neck, cervix, and vagina), testicular cancer, and Hodgkin lymphoma.

Bleomycin-induced lung injury usually occurs in 3-18% of treated patients (this figure will vary dependent on detection method used), although there is a marked increased risk if the total cumulative dose is more than 450 units.

The risk of developing lung injury is increased in the elderly and in patients receiving oxygen therapy, with a history of prior thoracic irradiation, or in whom therapy is re-instituted within 6 months of discontinuation.

On HRCT chest it can manifest in several patterns that include:

The prognosis is poor, with most patients dying of respiratory failure within 3 months of onset of symptoms.

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Cases and figures

  • Case 1
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  • Case 2: probable with organizing pneumonia pattern
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