Background: The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effect of breast irradiation on quality of life, including cosmetic outcome, for patients enrolled in a clinical trial.
Methods: Between 1984 and 1989, a randomized trial was conducted in Ontario, Canada, in which women with lymph node negative breast carcinoma who had undergone lumpectomy and axillary lymph node dissection were randomized to either breast irradiation or no further treatment. A modified version of the Breast Cancer Chemotherapy Questionnaire (BCQ) was administered to women at baseline, 1 month (4 weeks), and 2 months (8 weeks) after randomization. Irritation of the skin of the breast, breast pain, and appearance of the breast to the patient were also assessed every 3 months for the first 2 years of the study.
Results: Of 837 patients, 416 were randomly allocated to radiation therapy and 421 to no further treatment. The mean change in quality of life from baseline to 2 months was -0.05 for the radiation group and +0.30 for the control group. The difference between groups was statistically significant (P = 0.0001). Longer term radiation therapy increased the proportion of patients who were troubled by irritation of the skin of the breast and breast pain. Radiation therapy did not increase the proportion of patients at 2 years who were troubled by the appearance of the treated breast; 4.8% in irradiated and nonirradiated patients (P = 0.62).
Conclusions: Breast irradiation therapy had an effect on quality of life during treatment. After treatment, irradiated patients reported increased breast symptoms compared with controls. However, no difference was detected between groups at 2 years in the rates of skin irritation, breast pain, and being upset by the appearance of the breast.