Evaluation of dose to cardiac structures during breast irradiation

Br J Radiol. 2011 Aug;84(1004):743-6. doi: 10.1259/bjr/12497075. Epub 2010 Dec 15.


Objective: Adjuvant radiotherapy for breast cancer can lead to late cardiac complications. The highest radiation doses are likely to be to the anterior portion of the heart, including the left anterior descending coronary artery (LAD). The purpose of this work was to assess the radiation doses delivered to the heart and the LAD in respiration-adapted radiotherapy of patients with left-sided breast cancer.

Methods: 24 patients referred for adjuvant radiotherapy after breast-conserving surgery for left-sided lymph node positive breast cancer were evaluated. The whole heart, the arch of the LAD and the whole LAD were contoured. The radiation doses to all three cardiac structures were evaluated.

Results: For 13 patients, the plans were acceptable based on the criteria set for all 3 contours. For seven patients, the volume of heart irradiated was well below the set clinical threshold whereas a high dose was still being delivered to the LAD. In 1 case, the dose to the LAD was low while 19% of the contoured heart volume received over 20 Gy. In five patients, the dose to the arch LAD was relatively low while the dose to the whole LAD was considerably higher.

Conclusion: This study indicates that it is necessary to assess the dose delivered to the whole heart as well as to the whole LAD when investigating the acceptability of a breast irradiation treatment. Assessing the dose to only one of these structures could lead to excessive heart irradiation and thereby increased risk of cardiac complications for breast cancer radiotherapy patients.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Coronary Vessels / radiation effects*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Female
  • Heart / radiation effects*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Radiation Injuries / diagnostic imaging*
  • Radiation Injuries / pathology
  • Radiography
  • Radiotherapy Dosage
  • Radiotherapy, Adjuvant / adverse effects
  • Radiotherapy, Adjuvant / methods