Electron arc irradiation of the postmastectomy chest wall: clinical results

D K Gaffney, J Prows, D D Leavitt, M J Egger, J G Morgan, J R Stewart
Radiotherapy and Oncology 1997, 42 (1): 17-24

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Since 1980 electron arc irradiation of the postmastectomy chest wall has been the preferred technique for patients with advanced breast cancer at our institution. Here we report the results of this technique in 140 consecutive patients treated from 1980 to 1993.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: Thoracic computerized tomography was used to determine internal mammary lymph node depth and chest wall thickness, and for computerized dosimetry calculations. Total doses of 45-50 Gy in 5 to 5 1/2 weeks were delivered to the chest wall and internal mammary lymph nodes via electron arc and, in most cases, supraclavicular and axillary nodes were treated with a matching photon field. Patients were assessed for acute and late radiation changes, local and distant control of disease, and survival. Patients had a minimum follow-up of 1 year after completion of radiation treatment, and a mean follow up interval of 49 months and a median of 33 months. All patients had advanced disease: T stages 1, 2, 3, and 4 represented 21%, 39%, 21% and 19% of the study population, with a mean number of positive axillary lymph nodes of 6.5 (range, 0-29). Analysis was performed according to adjuvant status (no residual disease, n = 90), residual disease (positive margin, n = 15, and primary radiation, n = 2), or recurrent disease (n = 33).

RESULTS: Acute radiation reactions were generally mild and self limiting. A total of 26% of patients developed moist desquamation, and 32% had brisk erythema. Actuarial 5 year local-regional control, freedom from distant failure, and cause-specific survival was 91%, 64%, and 75% in the adjuvant group; 84%, 50%, and 53% in the residual disease group; and 63%, 34%, and 32% in the recurrent disease group, respectively. In univariate Cox regressions, the number of positive lymph nodes was predictive for local failure in the adjuvant group (P = 0.037). Chronic complications were minimal with 11% of patients having arm edema, 17% hyperpigmentation, and 13% telangectasia formation.

CONCLUSION: These data demonstrate that local-regional control with electron are therapy of the postmastectomy chest wall is comparable to photon techniques. Acute radiation reactions are well tolerated and mostly of minor extent. A previous report demonstrated a significant reduction in the dose-volume relationship of the lung using the electron arc compared with two photon techniques. Consequently, with careful attention to treatment planning and dosimetry, electron arc therapy of the postmastectomy chest wall is safe and effective. The radiation dose to heart and lung is minimized without compromise on local control.

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