Rituximab-induced interstitial lung disease

Dr René Pfleger et al.

Rituximab-induced interstitial lung disease (R-ILD) or rituximab pneumonitis is a rare non-infectious pulmonary side effect of the monoclonal CD20 antibody rituximab used in therapy for certain oncological/haematological and rheumatological disorders.

As a human/mouse chimeric monoclonal antibody reacting specifically with the CD20 antigen expressed on > 95% of normal and malignant B cell, rituximab induces complement-mediated and antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity. It revolutionised treatment of B-cell lymphomas at the end of 1990´s and is currently being tried in other conditions, e.g. neuromyelitis optica.

Although some pulmonary side effects were reported in phase II and phase III studies, the above mentioned severe and potentially fatal complication was not evident before widespread clinical use 1,4-7.

Since solely based on casuistic reports, small series and two reviews 4-5 the true incidence of this entity is unknown. However, with the number of case reports growing rapidly, it is very likely under-recognized 5.

Reports indicate a mean age of ~65 years (43–80) with male preponderance with a ratio of 2:1. The elderly appear more at risk.

Of today, the most common indication for rituximab is non-Hodgkin lymphomas, particularly diffuse large B-cell lymphoma.

The most common presenting symptoms include 4-5,7:

~20% of patients maybe totally asymptomatic.

Possible signs comprise:

  • hypoxaemia
  • restrictive pattern in pulmonary function tests
  • diffuse inspiratory crackles
  • digital clubbing
Onset of disease

Most frequently after a month, it may present acutely (within hours) as well as chronic (weeks/months).

The pathomechanism behind is not well understood.

The reported range of changes comprises 4:

Radiological abnormalities may precede the onset of symptoms.

Chest X-Ray

Diffuse bilateral lung infiltrates.

CT and especially HRCT almost invariably depict ground glass opacities with  additional findings in some cases:

Nuclear medicine

Findings in CT part as described above, typically FDG-avid, indicative of neutrophil activation. FDG-PET/CT may be preferable 4,6 and advantageous also because of its recommendation in clinical routine for staging and treatment assessment in most lymphomas.

Although spontaneous recovery is possible and treatment with corticosteroids usually leads to a rapid improvement (~70%), R-ILD may be fatal in ~20% of cases.  The withdrawal of the drug may be the safest way of treatment 3-4.

Is grossly that of pulmonary infections or other forms of interstitial lung disease 8. Bronchoalveolar lavage and transbronchial or open lung biopsy (video-assisted thoracoscopic VATS) may aid in establishing diagnosis and subtype.

  • R-ILD should be considered in any patient developing respiratory symptoms or new radiographic changes while receiving rituximab 4-5,7
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Article information

rID: 32816
System: Chest
Section: Pathology
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Rituximab pneumonitis
  • Rituximab subacute interstitial pneumonitis
  • R-ILD
  • RP
  • RTX lung disease

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