Postmastectomy radiotherapy in high-risk breast cancer patients given adjuvant systemic therapy. A 30-year long-term report from the Danish breast cancer cooperative group DBCG 82bc trial

Authors Overgaard M, Nielsen HM, Tramm T, Højris I, Grantzau TL, Alsner J, Offersen BV, Overgaard J; DBCG Radiotherapy Group
Source Radiother Oncol . 2022 May;170:4-13 Publicationdate 11 Mar 2022


Background: Between 1982 and 1990 the Danish Breast Cancer Cooperative Group (DBCG) conducted a randomized trial in high-risk pre- and postmenopausal (<70 years) breast cancer patients comparing mastectomy plus adjuvant systemic therapy alone versus the same treatment plus postoperative irradiation.

Aim: To present a comprehensive analysis of the complete DBCG 82bc study with a 30-year long-term follow-up of the cancer therapeutic effect and survival, together with an additional focus on the potential long-term life-threatening morbidity related to cardiac irradiation and/or the risk of secondary cancer induction.

Methods: A total of 3083 patients with pathological stage II and stage III breast cancer were after mastectomy randomly assigned to receive adjuvant systemic therapy and postoperative irradiation to the chestwall and regional lymph nodes (1538 pts), or adjuvant systemic therapy alone (1545 pts). Pre- and menopausal patients (DBCG 82b) received 8-9 cycles of CMF with an interval of 4 weeks, whereas postmenopausal patients (DBCG 82c) received tamoxifen 30 mg daily for one year. The median follow-up time was 34 years. The primary endpoints were loco-regional recurrence (LRR) and overall mortality, and the secondary endpoints were distant metastasis, breast cancer mortality, and irradiation related late morbidity.

Results: Overall the 30-year cumulative incidence of loco-regional recurrence was 9% in irradiated patients versus 37% in non-irradiated patients who received adjuvant systemic therapy alone (HR: 0.21 [95% cfl 0.18-0.26]). Distant metastasis probability at 30 years was 49% in irradiated patients compared to 60% in non-irradiated (HR: 0.77 [0.70-0.84]). Consequently, these figures resulted in a reduced breast cancer mortality: 56% vs 67% (HR: 0.75 [0.69-0.82], and overall mortality (81% vs 86% at 30 years (p < 0.0001), HR: 0.83 [0.77-0.90] in favor of irradiation. Radiotherapy did not result in any significant excess death of other courses, such as ischemic heart disease, HR: 0.82 [0.58-1.18]; nor secondary lung cancer HR: 1.44 [0.92-2.24], or other non-cancer related death HR: 1.15 [0.92-1.45].

Conclusion: The study definitely demonstrate that optimal long-term treatment benefit of high-risk breast cancer can only be achieved if both loco-regional and systemic tumor control are aimed for. Therefore, radiotherapy has an important role in the multidisciplinary treatment of breast cancer. The PMRT treatment did not result in excess ischemic heart damage, nor in other non-breast cancer related death.

Keywords: Adjuvant therapy; CMF; High-risk early breast cancer; Ischemic heart disease; Loco-regional recurrence; Patterns of failure; Postmastectomy radiotherapy; Tamoxifen.