Exposure of the Heart in Breast Cancer Radiation Therapy: A Systematic Review of Heart Doses Published During 2003 to 2013

Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2015 Nov 15;93(4):845-53. doi: 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2015.07.2292. Epub 2015 Aug 3.


Purpose: Breast cancer radiation therapy cures many women, but where the heart is exposed, it can cause heart disease. We report a systematic review of heart doses from breast cancer radiation therapy that were published during 2003 to 2013.

Methods and materials: Eligible studies were those reporting whole-heart dose (ie, dose averaged over the whole heart). Analyses considered the arithmetic mean of the whole-heart doses for the CT plans for each regimen in each study. We termed this "mean heart dose."

Results: In left-sided breast cancer, mean heart dose averaged over all 398 regimens reported in 149 studies from 28 countries was 5.4 Gy (range, <0.1-28.6 Gy). In regimens that did not include the internal mammary chain (IMC), average mean heart dose was 4.2 Gy and varied with the target tissues irradiated. The lowest average mean heart doses were from tangential radiation therapy with either breathing control (1.3 Gy; range, 0.4-2.5 Gy) or treatment in the lateral decubitus position (1.2 Gy; range, 0.8-1.7 Gy), or from proton radiation therapy (0.5 Gy; range, 0.1-0.8 Gy). For intensity modulated radiation therapy mean heart dose was 5.6 Gy (range, <0.1-23.0 Gy). Where the IMC was irradiated, average mean heart dose was around 8 Gy and varied little according to which other targets were irradiated. Proton radiation therapy delivered the lowest average mean heart dose (2.6 Gy, range, 1.0-6.0 Gy), and tangential radiation therapy with a separate IMC field the highest (9.2 Gy, range, 1.9-21.0 Gy). In right-sided breast cancer, the average mean heart dose was 3.3 Gy based on 45 regimens in 23 studies.

Conclusions: Recent estimates of typical heart doses from left breast cancer radiation therapy vary widely between studies, even for apparently similar regimens. Maneuvers to reduce heart dose in left tangential radiation therapy were successful. Proton radiation therapy delivered the lowest doses. Inclusion of the IMC doubled typical heart dose.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiotoxicity / etiology
  • Cardiotoxicity / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Heart / radiation effects*
  • Humans
  • Lymphatic Irradiation / statistics & numerical data
  • Organs at Risk / radiation effects
  • Proton Therapy / statistics & numerical data
  • Radiation Dosage*
  • Radiotherapy, Intensity-Modulated / statistics & numerical data
  • Unilateral Breast Neoplasms / radiotherapy*