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Eur J Cancer. 2001 Nov;37(17):2178-83.

A preliminary report of intraoperative radiotherapy (IORT) in limited-stage breast cancers that are conservatively treated.

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Radiotherapy Division, Istituto Europeo di Oncologia, University of Milan, Via G. Ripamonti 435, 20141 Milan, Italy.


Local recurrences after breast conserving surgery occur mostly in the quadrant harbouring the primary carcinoma. The main objective of postoperative radiotherapy should be the sterilisation of residual cancer cells in the operative area, while irradiation of the whole breast may be avoided. We have developed a new technique of intra-operative radiotherapy (IORT) of a breast quadrant after the removal of the primary carcinoma. A mobile linear accelerator (linac) with a robotic arm is utilised delivering electron beams able to produce energies from 3 to 9 MeV. Through a perspex applicator, the radiation is delivered directly to the mammary gland and to spare the skin from the radiation, the skin margins are stretched out of the radiation field. To protect the thoracic wall, an aluminium-lead disc is placed between the gland and the pectoralis muscle. Different dose levels were tested from 10 to 21 Gy without important side-effects. We estimated that a single fraction of 21 Gy is equivalent to 60 Gy delivered in 30 fractions at 2 Gy/fraction. Seventeen patients received a dose of IORT of 10 to 15 Gy as an anticipated boost to external radiotherapy, while 86 patients received a dose of 17-19-21 Gy intra-operatively as their whole treatment. The follow-up time of the 101 patients varied from 1 to 17 months (mean follow-up time was 8 months). The IORT treatment was very well accepted by all of our patients, either due to the rapidity of the radiation course in cases where IORT was given as the whole treatment or to the shortening of the subsequent external radiotherapy in cases where IORT was given as an anticipated boost. We believe that single dose IORT after breast resection for small mammary carcinomas may be an excellent alternative to the traditional postoperative radiotherapy. However, a longer follow-up is needed for a better evaluation of the possible late side-effects.

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