Breast-Conserving Surgery with or without Irradiation in Early Breast Cancer

SUMMARY: Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the US and about 1 in 8 women (12%) will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. It is estimated that approximately 300,590 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2023 and about 43,700 individuals will die of the disease, largely due to metastatic recurrence. About 70% of breast tumors express Estrogen Receptors and/or Progesterone Receptors, and Hormone Receptor (HR)-positive/HER2-negative breast cancer is the most frequently diagnosed molecular subtype. Majority of these patients are diagnosed with early stage disease and are often cured with a combination of surgery, radiotherapy, adjuvant chemotherapy, and hormone therapy. However approximately 20% of patients will experience local recurrence or distant relapse during the first 10 years of treatment.

The median age at the time of breast cancer diagnosis in the US is 62 years and approximately 26% of breast cancer diagnoses are in women 65 to 74 years of age. Patient undergoing breast conserving surgery, often receive adjuvant breast radiation therapy to reduce the risk of local recurrence. Radiation therapy however is inconvenient, expensive and is associated with acute and late toxicities. Avoidance of radiation in elderly patients with low risk disease has remained controversial due to the lack of long term Level 1 evidence. In the LUMINA trial and PRIME II study of women over 55 years of age with low risk breast cancer, after a median follow up of 5 years, 5-year rate of ipsilateral breast tumor recurrence was low at 2-4% among those women who did not receive adjuvant whole-breast radiotherapy after breast-conserving surgery. The researchers herein reported the 10-year outcomes of the PRIME II trial.

PRIME II is a Phase III randomized clinical trial of the omission of breast irradiation, designed by the Scottish Cancer Trials Breast Group (SCTBG). This study included women 65 years of age or older, who had Hormone Receptor (HR)-positive, node-negative, T1 or T2 primary breast cancer (with tumors 3 cm or less in the largest dimension), treated with breast-conserving surgery with clear excision margins and adjuvant endocrine therapy. Patients were eligible if they had either cancer with Grade 3 histologic features or lymphovascular invasion but not both. A total of 1326 women were randomly assigned to receive 40-50 Gy whole-breast irradiation (N=658) or no radiation therapy (N=668). Both treatment groups were well balanced. The median patient age was 70 years and less than 10% of patients had ER-low tumors. The Primary end point was local breast cancer recurrence. Regional recurrence, breast cancer–specific survival, distant recurrence as the first event, and Overall Survival were also assessed. The median follow up was 9.1 years.

The cumulative incidence of local breast cancer recurrence after 10 years of follow up was 9.5% in the no-radiotherapy group and 0.9% in the radiotherapy group (HR=10.4; P<0.001). Even though local recurrence was more common in the group that did not receive radiotherapy, there was no substantial difference in the 10-year incidence of distant recurrence as the first event between the two treatment groups (1.6% without radiotherapy and 3.0% with radiotherapy). Overall Survival at 10 years was almost identical in the two groups, at 80.8% with no radiotherapy and 80.7% with radiotherapy. The incidence of regional recurrence and breast cancer–specific survival also did not differ substantially between the two groups.

The authors concluded that omission of radiotherapy was associated with an increased incidence of local recurrence but had no detrimental effect on distant recurrence as the first event, or Overall Survival, among women 65 years of age or older, with Grade 1 or 2, Estrogen Receptor-high breast cancers, treated with breast-conserving surgery and 5 years of adjuvant endocrine therapy.

Breast-Conserving Surgery with or without Irradiation in Early Breast Cancer. Kunkler IH, Williams LJ, Jack WJL, et al. N Engl J Med 2023; 388:585-594.