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Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2008 Dec 1;72(5):1449-55. doi: 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2008.02.080.

Does axillary boost increase lymphedema compared with supraclavicular radiation alone after breast conservation?

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Department of Radiation Oncology, Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, PA, USA.



To determine independent predictors of lymphedema (LE) after breast radiotherapy and to quantify added risks of LE from regional node irradiation (RNI).


A total of 2,579 women with T1-2, N 0-3, M0 breast cancer treated with breast conservation between 1970 and 2005 were studied. A total of 2,169 patients (84%) received radiation to the breast (B), 226 (8.8%) to the breast and supraclavicular LNs (B+SC), and 184 (7.1%) to the breast, supraclavicular LNs, and a posterior axillary boost (B+SC+PAB). Median follow-up was 81 months (range, 3-271).


Eighteen percent of patients developed LE. LE risks were as follows: 16% (B), 23% (B+SC), and 31% (B+SC+PAB) (p < 0.0001). LE severity was greater in patients who had RNI (p = 0.0002). On multivariate analysis, RT field (p < 0.0001), obesity index (p = 0.0157), systemic therapy (p = 0.0013), and number of LNs dissected (p < 0.0001) independently predicted for LE. In N1 patients, the addition of a SC to tangents (p < 0.0001) and the addition of a PAB to tangents (p = 0.0017) conferred greater risks of LE, but adding a PAB to B+SC RT did not (p = 0.8002). In the N2 patients, adding a PAB increased the risk of LE 4.5-fold over B+SC RT (p = 0.0011).


LE predictors included number of LNs dissected, RNI, obesity index, and systemic therapy. LE risk increased when a SC or PAB were added in the N1 subgroup. In the N2 patients, a PAB increased the risk over B+SC. The decision to boost the axilla must be weighed against the increased risk of LE that it imposes.

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