[Radiotherapy for breast cancer and pacemaker]

Cancer Radiother. 2011 Jun;15(3):197-201. doi: 10.1016/j.canrad.2010.11.014. Epub 2011 Mar 21.
[Article in French]


Purpose: Patients with permanent cardiac pacemakers occasionally require radiotherapy. Therapeutic irradiation may cause pacemakers to malfunction due to the effects of ionizing radiation or electromagnetic interference. We studied the breast cancer patients who needed breast and/or chest wall and lymph node irradiation to assess the feasibility and tolerance in this population of patients.

Patients and methods: From November 2008 to December 2009, more than 900 patients received radiotherapy for their breast cancer in our department using megavoltage linear accelerator (X 4-6 MV and electrons). Among them, seven patients were with permanent pacemaker. All patients have been treated to the breast and chest wall and/or lymph nodes. Total dose to breast and/or chest wall was 50 Gy/25 fractions and 46 Gy/23 fractions to lymph nodes. Patients who underwent conserving surgery followed by breast irradiation were boosted when indicated to tumour bed with 16 Gy/8 fractions. All patients were monitored everyday in presence of radiation oncologist to follow the function of their pacemaker. All pacemakers were controlled before and after radiotherapy by the patients' cardiologist.

Results: Seven patients were referred in our department for postoperative breast cancer radiotherapy. Among them, only one patient was declined for radiotherapy and underwent mastectomy without radiotherapy. In four cases the pacemaker was repositioned before the beginning of radiotherapy. Six patients, aged between 48 and 84 years underwent irradiation for their breast cancer. Four patients were treated with conserving surgery followed by breast radiotherapy and two with mastectomy followed by chest wall and internal mammary chain, supra- and infra-clavicular lymph node irradiation. The dose to the pacemaker generator was kept below 2 Gy. There was no pacemaker dysfunction observed during the radiotherapy.

Conclusion: The multidisciplinary work with position change of the pacemaker before radiotherapy and everyday monitoring permitted the safe treatment of our patients. Updated guidelines are definitely needed with more details about acceptable doses at the different parts of the pacemaker.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Breast Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / surgery
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Dose Fractionation, Radiation
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Electrodes, Implanted
  • Equipment Failure
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymphatic Irradiation / methods
  • Mastectomy
  • Middle Aged
  • Pacemaker, Artificial*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Radiotherapy, Adjuvant / methods
  • Thoracic Wall / radiation effects