Background: In breast cancer, with the increasing use of intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT), the need for accurate tumour bed localisation is paramount. We determined current practice of clip usage in patients referred to a regional centre for radiotherapy following breast conserving surgery. We also investigated whether participation of surgical units in IMRT trials, where tumour bed clip use is emphasised, was associated with clip insertion.
Methods: A retrospective cohort study of consecutive CT planning images (n = 205), of breast cancer patients treated with radiotherapy following breast conserving surgery. Presence and number of clips; referring hospital and referring surgeon of the patient was recorded. This was correlated to previous participation of referring hospital to IMRT trials.
Results: Of 196 eligible patients, 126 (64%) had clips sited, of which 15 (12%) had two or fewer clips. Five referring hospitals were high recruiters (≥14 patients), and five hospitals were low/non-recruiters (≤1 patient) to IMRT trials. Of patients from low/non-recruiting centres, 29 of 43 (67%) had clips omitted, compared to 41 of 153 (27%) from high-recruiting centres (p < 0.001). Median number of clips used in centres recruiting high numbers of patients was four, compared to zero in low recruiting centres. Ten of 31 referring surgeons routinely omitted clips.
Conclusion: Despite inclusion in national guidelines, clip insertion has not become routine in the UK in patients undergoing breast conserving surgery. However, hospitals involved in breast radiotherapy randomised controlled trials are more compliant with clip usage recommendations. Auditing of clip insertion should be considered as a quality control marker in breast surgery.
Keywords: Breast cancer; Breast conserving surgery; Clips; Radiotherapy; Trials; Tumour bed.
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