Late cytokinetic changes of the colonic crypt epithelium after radiation therapy were investigated. A monoclonal antibody to bromodeoxyuridine (anti-BrdU MAb) was used in tissue specimens previously incubated with BrdU to show S-phase cells by immunohistochemical technique. Endoscopic rectal biopsies were taken from 30 patients previously treated with radiotherapy for gynaecological cancer and from 50 patients with comparable but untreated neoplasms, as controls. Number and height distribution of S-phase cells were evaluated by dividing each crypt column into 5 equal longitudinal compartments. No statistically significant differences were found in total Labelling Index (LI) between controls and irradiated mucosa, whereas LI per crypt compartment, percentage of labelled compartments and percentage of BrdU-positive cells in the middle and superficial portions of the crypt were significantly higher in patients submitted to radiation therapy. This kinetic abnormality corresponds to a progressive shift of the major zone of DNA synthesis to the upper third of the crypt as a late reaction to radiation and represents an early step in the histogenesis of colorectal cancer. These results lend support to the view that there is a higher risk of colorectal carcinoma after pelvic irradiation.
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