Purpose of review
In the fibrosing alveolitis of systemic sclerosis, treatment decisions depend on prognostic evaluation, which continues to excite considerable interest and debate. Advances in the staging of fibrosing alveolitis of systemic sclerosis and recent therapeutic studies are discussed in this review.
The decision about whether to start treatment is often the most difficult clinical challenge, because many patients have limited pulmonary fibrosis that will not necessarily progress. The estimation of disease extent (using high-resolution CT) and disease severity (using pulmonary function tests) is pivotal. Factors reducing the threshold for treatment, in addition to severe disease, include evidence of recent deterioration, a short duration of systemic disease, antitopoisomerase antibody positivity, and, in some cases, bronchoalveolar lavage findings (although the role of bronchoalveolar lavage remains contentious). Histologic appearances at surgical biopsy have little prognostic value, with the great majority of patients having nonspecific interstitial pneumonia. Best current initial treatment consists of either oral or intravenous cyclophosphamide, usually administered with low-dose corticosteroid therapy, although the risk of scleroderma renal crisis with low-dose steroid therapy requires further evaluation.
Careful prognostic evaluation, including the staging of disease severity and the definition of longitudinal disease behavior (by serial imaging and pulmonary function tests), is central to the formulation of a logical management plan in fibrosing alveolitis of systemic sclerosis. Cyclophosphamide, the best initial treatment currently, is associated with significant toxicity, justifying therapeutic studies of other immunosuppressive agents and a wide range of anticytokine and antifibrotic agents.