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The Role of Radiation Therapy After Breast Conserving Surgery in Older Women with Breast Cancer

Pauline T. Truong, MDCM, FRCPC, Radiation Therapy Program, Vancouver Island Centre, British Columbia Cancer Agency and the University of British Columbia, Victoria, BC.

Rohit Pai, BSc, Radiation Therapy Program, Vancouver Island Centre, British Columbia Cancer Agency and the University of British Columbia, Victoria, BC.

Ivo A. Olivotto, MD, FRCPC, Radiation Therapy Program, Vancouver Island Centre, British Columbia Cancer Agency and the University of British Columbia, Victoria, BC.

Breast conserving surgery (BCS) and postoperative radiation therapy (RT) achieve local control and survival equal to mastectomy in women with early stage breast cancer. The incidence of breast cancer increases with age and the number of older women in Canada continues to rise, but the under-representation of older women in BCS trials limits the evidence on which to base optimal therapy decisions. This article reviews breast conservation in older women, with a focus on the necessity of radiation therapy. Multiple randomized trials with and without age subgroup analyses demonstrate that RT after BCS should be considered standard therapy. A low-risk subset in whom radiation therapy may be omitted without compromising local control has not been defined. In women with early breast cancer, age alone should not preclude treatment that optimizes local control. Efforts to include representative samples of older breast cancer subjects in modern clinical trials with endpoints that include cancer control, survival, function, and quality of life are needed.

Key words: age, breast conserving surgery, breast cancer, breast conservation, radiotherapy.