Background: For most older women with early breast cancer, standard treatment after breast-conserving surgery is adjuvant whole-breast radiotherapy and adjuvant endocrine treatment. We aimed to assess the effect omission of whole-breast radiotherapy would have on local control in older women at low risk of local recurrence at 5 years.
Methods: Between April 16, 2003, and Dec 22, 2009, 1326 women aged 65 years or older with early breast cancer judged low-risk (ie, hormone receptor-positive, axillary node-negative, T1-T2 up to 3 cm at the longest dimension, and clear margins; grade 3 tumour histology or lymphovascular invasion, but not both, were permitted), who had had breast-conserving surgery and were receiving adjuvant endocrine treatment, were recruited into a phase 3 randomised controlled trial at 76 centres in four countries. Eligible patients were randomly assigned to either whole-breast radiotherapy (40-50 Gy in 15-25 fractions) or no radiotherapy by computer-generated permuted block randomisation, stratified by centre, with a block size of four. The primary endpoint was ipsilateral breast tumour recurrence. Follow-up continues and will end at the 10-year anniversary of the last randomised patient. Analyses were done by intention to treat. The trial is registered on ISRCTN.com, number ISRCTN95889329.
Findings: 658 women who had undergone breast-conserving surgery and who were receiving adjuvant endocrine treatment were randomly assigned to receive whole-breast irradiation and 668 were allocated to no further treatment. After median follow-up of 5 years (IQR 3·84-6·05), ipsilateral breast tumour recurrence was 1·3% (95% CI 0·2-2·3; n=5) in women assigned to whole-breast radiotherapy and 4·1% (2·4-5·7; n=26) in those assigned no radiotherapy (p=0·0002). Compared with women allocated to whole-breast radiotherapy, the univariate hazard ratio for ipsilateral breast tumour recurrence in women assigned to no radiotherapy was 5·19 (95% CI 1·99-13·52; p=0·0007). No differences in regional recurrence, distant metastases, contralateral breast cancers, or new breast cancers were noted between groups. 5-year overall survival was 93·9% (95% CI 91·8-96·0) in both groups (p=0·34). 89 women died; eight of 49 patients allocated to no radiotherapy and four of 40 assigned to radiotherapy died from breast cancer.
Interpretation: Postoperative whole-breast radiotherapy after breast-conserving surgery and adjuvant endocrine treatment resulted in a significant but modest reduction in local recurrence for women aged 65 years or older with early breast cancer 5 years after randomisation. However, the 5-year rate of ipsilateral breast tumour recurrence is probably low enough for omission of radiotherapy to be considered for some patients.
Funding: Chief Scientist Office (Scottish Government), Breast Cancer Institute (Western General Hospital, Edinburgh).
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