A systematic review of neo-adjuvant radiotherapy in the treatment of breast cancer

22 Jan 2021
Muneer Ahmed, Felix Jozsa, Michael Douek

Introduction: The use of neo-adjuvant radiotherapy (NRT) has been proven effective at improving cancer related outcome measures, including overall-survival (OS) in the management of solid cancers. However, its utilisation in breast cancer has not been explored to the extent of neo-adjuvant chemotherapy (NAC). The evidence for the application of NRT in breast cancer is evaluated.

Methods: PubMed, Embase and the Cochrane Library databases were searched systematically in August 2020 for studies that addressed the role of NRT in the treatment of breast cancer. Studies were deemed eligible if they reported on objective outcome measurements of OS, disease free-survival (DFS) or pathological complete response (pCR) and attained a satisfactory quality assessment.

Findings: A total of 23 studies reported upon 3,766 patients who had received NRT of which 3,233 also received NAC concurrently (neo-adjuvant chemo-radiotherapy (NCRT)). The pCR values ranged from 14% to 42%, 5-year DFS 61.4% to 81% and 5-year OS 71.6% to 84.2%. Complications were confined to radiation dermatitis with no cases of implant loss reported during breast reconstruction. The application of NRCT alone showed no significant difference in OS or DFS compared to NCRT followed by surgery.

Interpretation: Numbers of patients receiving exclusively NRT is small. However, NCRT is oncologically safe with a low side-effect profile including preceding breast reconstruction. Potential benefits include precise cancer volume targeting, chemosensitisation, elimination of delays in adjuvant therapies and alternatives to chemotherapy in oestrogen receptor positive patients. These factors warrant further exploration within randomised controlled-trials.

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