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CMAJ. 2004 Apr 13;170(8):1263-73.

Clinical practice guidelines for the care and treatment of breast cancer: 16. Locoregional post-mastectomy radiotherapy.

Author information

BC Cancer Agency-Vancouver Island Centre.



To provide information and recommendations to assist women with breast cancer and their physicians in making decisions regarding the use of locoregional post-mastectomy radiotherapy (PMRT).


Locoregional control, disease-free survival, overall survival and treatment-related toxicities.


This guideline is based on a review of all meta-analyses, consensus statements and other guidelines published between 1966 and November 2002. Searches of MEDLINE and CANCERLIT for English-language randomized controlled trials published between 1995 and November 2002 were also conducted to supplement the literature previously reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Health Services Research Committee panel in its published guideline. A nonsystematic review of the literature was continued through June 2003.


Locoregional PMRT is recommended for women with an advanced primary tumour (tumour size 5 cm or greater, or tumour invasion of the skin, pectoral muscle or chest wall). Locoregional PMRT is recommended for women with 4 or more positive axillary lymph nodes. The role of PMRT in women with 1 to 3 positive axillary lymph nodes is unclear. These women should be offered the opportunity to participate in clinical trials of PMRT. Locoregional PMRT is generally not recommended for women who have tumours that are less than 5 cm in diameter and who have negative axillary nodes. Other patient, tumour and treatment characteristics, including age, histologic grade, lymphovascular invasion, hormone receptor status, number of axillary nodes removed, axillary extracapsular extension and surgical margin status, may affect locoregional control, but their use in specifying additional indications for PMRT is currently unclear. PMRT should encompass the chest wall and the supraclavicular, infraclavicular and axillary apical lymph node areas. To reduce the risk of lymphedema, radiation of the entire axilla should not be used routinely after complete axillary dissection of level I and II lymph nodes. A definite recommendation regarding the inclusion of the internal mammary lymph nodes in PMRT cannot be made because of limited and inconsistent data. The use of modern techniques in radiotherapy planning is recommended to minimize excessive normal tissue exposure, particularly to the cardiac and pulmonary structures. Common short-term side effects of PMRT, including fatigue and skin erythema, are generally tolerable and not dose-limiting. Severe long-term side effects, including lymphedema, cardiac and pulmonary toxicities, brachial plexopathy, rib fractures and secondary neoplasms, are relatively rare. The optimal sequencing of PMRT and systemic therapy is currently unclear. Regimens containing anthracyclines or taxanes should not be administered concurrently with radiotherapy because of the potential for increased toxicity.


The authors' original text was submitted for review, revision and approval by the Steering Committee on Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Care and Treatment of Breast Cancer. Subsequently, feedback was provided by 11 oncologists from across Canada. The final document was approved by the steering committee.


The Steering Committee on Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Care and Treatment of Breast Cancer was convened by Health Canada. COMPLETION DATE: November 2003.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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