Intracranial long-term complications of radiation therapy: an image-based review

Carrie M. Carr, John C. Benson, David R. DeLone, Felix E. Diehn, Dong Kun Kim, Kenneth W. Merrell, Alex A. Nagelschneider, Ajay A. Madhavan, Derek R. Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background and Purpose: Radiation therapy is commonly utilized in the majority of solid cancers and many hematologic malignancies and other disorders. While it has an undeniably major role in improving cancer survival, radiation therapy has long been recognized to have various negative effects, ranging from mild to severe. In this manuscript, we review several intracranial manifestations of therapeutic radiation, with particular attention to those that may be encountered by radiologists. Methods: We conducted an extensive literature review of known complications of intracranial radiation therapy. Based on this review, we selected complications that had salient, recognizable imaging findings. We searched our imaging database for illustrative examples of these complications, focusing only on patients who had a history of intracranial radiation therapy. We then selected cases that best exemplified expected imaging findings in these entities. Results: Based on our initial literature search and imaging database review, we selected cases of radiation-induced meningioma, radiation-induced glioma, cavernous malformation, enlarging perivascular spaces, leukoencephalopathy, stroke-like migraine after radiation therapy, Moyamoya syndrome, radiation necrosis, radiation-induced labyrinthitis, optic neuropathy, and retinopathy. Although retinopathy is not typically apparent on imaging, it has been included given its clinical overlap with optic neuropathy. Conclusions: We describe the clinical and imaging features of selected sequelae of intracranial radiation therapy, with a focus on those most relevant to practicing radiologists. Knowledge of these complications and their imaging findings is important, because radiologists play a key role in early detection of these entities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)471-482
Number of pages12
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021


  • Complications of intracranial radiation
  • Intracranial radiation
  • Radiation necrosis
  • Radiation side effects
  • Radiation-induced malignancy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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