Can elderly patients with low-risk breast cancer benefit from radiotherapy?

Claudio Fuentes-Sánchez, María Elena García-Morales, Carmen González-San Segundo


There are few trials published on treatment in elderly women with low-risk breast cancer. Although the clinical behavior is like younger patients, there is a tendency to undertreat them, which may lead to an increase in the risk of local relapses and decrease their survival. The local recurrences omitting adjuvant treatment (tamoxifen or radiotherapy) after breast conserving surgery (BCS) even in low-risk patients is high, reaching up 20%, which is unacceptable. Although tamoxifen and radiotherapy seem to have a similar effect in reducing local recurrence with equal overall survival, the combination of both achieves the maximum benefit with local relapses of less than 2%. In recent years two studies have been published and were designed specifically for elderly patients. The CALGB 9343 and the PRIME II trials recommend omitting radiotherapy in patients with low-risk tumors treated with BCS and tamoxifen based on a similar survival, but with an increase in local relapses when radiotherapy is omitted, 10% at 10 years vs. 2%. There is no basis to ensure that a treatment with tamoxifen has less toxicity in this group of patients who are usually poly-treated, and it seems that treatment compliance is much lower than expected. The decrease in the number of sessions in external radiotherapy with hypofractionation and accelerate partial breast irradiation, especially intraoperative radiotherapy (IORT) with a single session, makes this recommendation very controversial. Elderly patients may benefit from radiation therapy after BCS.