Indexed on: 17 Apr '09Published on: 17 Apr '09Published in: Strahlentherapie und Onkologie
Postoperative radiotherapy after breast cancer surgery effectively reduces local relapses. A survival benefit after breast conservation, however, has only been proven recently which was in part due to excessive cardiac mortality of patients who had been treated with radiotherapy in the past.The literature on postoperative radiotherapy for breast cancer was reviewed with regard to cardiac toxicity as the basis for hypothesis generation.From numerous publications on cardiac toxicity of breast cancer radiotherapy, the following pattern emerges: in series where a high radiation dose was applied to a significant percentage of the heart (postmastectomy and postlumpectomy series) cardiac toxicity/mortality was increased versus a nonexposed cohort or for left over right disease. If, however, a relevant exposure of cardiac muscle could be more or less excluded based on the technique used (mainly more recent postlumpectomy radiotherapy), no cardiac toxicity was observed. Series for which individual dose exposure varied or could not be clarified also came to varying conclusions. Also due to retrospectively unclear dose distributions, an exact quantification of tolerance doses/effects of different geographic dose distribution patterns could not be performed to date. A particularly difficult question to answer is the threshold volume for clinically relevant cardiotoxicity with tangential radiotherapy at prescription doses. As a consequence, this precludes an estimate in which situations multifield intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) with its characteristic dose distribution pattern of a larger volume exposed to intermediate doses and higher mean/median heart doses (as shown in Figure 1) might be preferable.This review updates the database on cardiac toxicity of breast cancer radiotherapy with special emphasis regarding the issues related to the clinical use of IMRT. Multifield IMRT may reduce the cardiac risk for a small subset of patients at excessive risk with conventional tangential radiotherapy due to unfavorable thoracic geometry, for whom partial-breast radiotherapy is not an option. Due to further concern about the effects of intermediate doses to larger heart volumes, potentially increased contralateral cancer risk and the long latency of clinically apparent toxicity, the introduction of breast IMRT should be closely followed. Accompanying functional studies may have the potential to detect cardiac toxicity at an earlier time.