Regional nodal management and patterns of failure following conservative surgery and radiation therapy for stage I and II breast cancer

Karen J. Halverson, Marie E. Taylor, Carlos A. Perez, Delia M. Garcia, Robert Myerson, Gordon Philpott, Jerome Levy, Joseph R. Simpson, George Tucker, Carol Rush

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160 Scopus citations


Purpose: To determine the incidence, pattern of regional nodal failure, and treatment sequelae as determined by the extent of lymphatic irradiation. Methods and Materials: The records of 511 patients with 519 Stage I and II breast cancers treated with breast conserving surgery with or without axillary dissection and irradiation were reviewed. The extent of nodal irradiation was at the discretion of the attending radiation oncologist and varied considerably over the years. Management of the axilla consisted of axillary dissection alone in 351, axillary dissection and supplemental irradiation in 74, irradiation alone in 75, and simply observation in 21 patients. Results: Overall, axillary recurrence was uncommon (1.2%), but was slightly more frequent after irradiation alone (2.7%) than after surgery alone (0.3%), p = 0.14. There was no benefit for supplemental axillary irradiation after an axillary dissection yielding negative or 1 to 3 positive nodes. In the 21 patients in whom the axilla was observed, axillary recurrence was not observed. Supraclavicular failures were rare in women with negative or 1 to 3 positive axillary lymph nodes (0.5%), and not significantly affected by elective irradiation. Internal mammary node recurrence was seen in only one patient, and was not significantly influenced by elective internal mammary irradiation. Both arm and breast edema were significantly more common in women having breast and nodal irradiation than after breast irradiation alone. These sequelae were not influenced significantly by the number of lymph nodes obtained in the axillary dissection specimen. Radiation pneumonitis was seen with increased frequency with more extensive nodal radiotherapy. Pneumonitis was not found to be affected by the administration or sequencing of chemotherapy. Conclusion: There is little justification for axillary or supraclavicular irradiation following an axillary dissection which yields negative or minimally involved (1 to 3 positive) lymp nodes. There were too few patients with extensive axillary node metastases (>- 4 positive) in our series to draw conclusions about the optimal extent of nodal irradiation in this subset. Elective internal mammary lymph node irradiation increases technical complexity, does not appear to be advantageous, and when combined with supraclavicular irradiation places the patient at highest risk for pneumonitis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)593-599
Number of pages7
JournalInternational journal of radiation oncology, biology, physics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 15 1993


  • Arm edema
  • Breast cancer
  • Breast edema
  • Pneumonitis
  • Radiation therapy
  • Regional node recurrence


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