Which target volume should be considered when irradiating the regional nodes in breast cancer? Results of a network-meta-analysis

Radiat Oncol. 2019 Jun 11;14(1):102. doi: 10.1186/s13014-019-1280-6.


Purpose/objective(s): Radiation treatment to the regional nodes results in an improvement in survival in breast cancer according to a meta-analysis of randomized trials. However, different volumes were targeted in these studies: breast or chestwall only (WBI/CWI), inclusion of the medial supraclavicular region and axillary apex (MS + WBI/CWI) or additional inclusion of the internal mammary chain (IM + MS + WBI/CWI). The benefit of treating the medial supraclavicular region and axillary apex compared to tangential breast or chestwall irradiation only remains unclear.

Materials/methods: A literature search was conducted identifying trials for adjuvant radiation volumes in nodal irradiation after breast surgery and axillary treatment. Events and effect sizes were extracted from the publications for the endpoints of overall survival (OS), breast cancer-specific survival (BCSS), disease-free survival (DFS), distant metastasis-free survival (DMFS) and loco-regional control (LRC). A network meta-analysis was performed using MetaXL V5.3 with the inverse variance heterogeneity model.

Results: We found two randomized studies (n = 5836) comparing comprehensive nodal irradiation to sole breast treatment as well as one randomized (n = 1407) and one prospective cohort study (n = 3377) analysing the additional treatment of the internal mammary chain against sole local and supraclavicular and axillary apex radiation. Compared to WBI/CWI alone the treatment of IM + MS + WBI/CWI (HR = 0.88; CI:0.78-0.99; p = 0.036) results in improved OS unlike MS + WBI/CWI (HR = 0.99; CI:0.86-1.14; p = 0,89). These results are confirmed in BCSS: IM + MS + WBI/CWI (HR = 0.82; CI:0.72-0.92; p = 0.002) and MS + WBI/CWI (HR = 0.96; CI:0.79-1.18; p = 0.69). PFS is significantly improved with the treatment of MS + WBI/CWI (OR = 0.83; CI:0.71-0.97; p = 0.019). Both nodal treatment volumes improve LRC (MS + WBI/CWI OR = 0.74; CI:0.62-0.87; p = 0.004 and IM + MS + WBI/CWI OR = 0.60; CI:0.43-0.86; p < 0,001). Yet only the internal mammary nodes provide a benefit in DMFS (MS + WBI/CWI HR = 0.97; CI:0.81-1.16; p = 0.74 and IM + MS + WBI/CWI HR = 0.84; CI:0.75-0.94; p = 0.002).

Conclusion: Expanding the radiation field to the axillary apex and supraclavicular nodes after axillary node dissection reduced loco-regional recurrences without improvement in overall and cancer-specific survival. A prolongation in survival due to regional nodal irradiation is achieved when the internal mammary chain is included. This derives from a reduction in distant metastasis.

Keywords: Breast cancer; Radiation therapy; Radiation volumes; Regional lymph nodes.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Axilla
  • Breast Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Breast Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / mortality*
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / pathology
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / radiotherapy
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Radiotherapy, Adjuvant / mortality*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Survival Rate
  • Thoracic Wall / radiation effects*