Medline: 1640483

Journal of the National Cancer Institute 84(16): 1245-1250, 1992.

Adjuvant radiotherapy and risk of contralateral breast cancer.

Storm HH, Andersson M, Boice JD, et al.


The risk of contralateral breast cancer is increased twofold to fivefold for breast cancer patients. A registry-based cohort study in Denmark suggested that radiation treatment of the first breast cancer might increase the risk for contralateral breast cancer among 10-year survivors.

Our goal was to assess the role of radiation in the development of contralateral breast cancer.

A nested case-control study was conducted in a cohort of 56,540 women in Denmark diagnosed with invasive breast cancer from 1943 through 1978. Case patients were 529 women who developed contralateral breast cancer 8 or more years after first diagnosis. Controls were women with breast cancer who did not develop contralateral breast cancer. One control was matched to each case patient on the basis of age, calendar year of initial breast cancer diagnosis, and survival time. Radiation dose to the contralateral breast was estimated for each patient on the basis of radiation measurements and abstracted treatment information. The anatomical position of each breast cancer was also abstracted from medical records.

Radiotherapy had been administered to 82.4% of case patients and controls, and the mean radiation dose to the contralateral breast was estimated to be 2.51 Gy. Radiotherapy did not increase the overall risk of contralateral breast cancer (relative risk = 1.04; 95% confidence interval = 0.74-1.46), and there was no evidence that risk varied with radiation dose, time since exposure, or age at exposure. The second tumors in case patients were evenly distributed in the medial, lateral, and central portions of the breast, a finding that argues against a causal role of radiotherapy in tumorigenesis.

The majority of women in our series were perimenopausal or postmenopausal (53% total versus 38% premenopausal and 9% of unknown status) and received radiotherapy at an age when the breast tissue appears least susceptible to the carcinogenic effects of radiation. Based on a dose of 2.51 Gy and estimates of radiation risk from other studies, a relative risk of only 1.18 would have been expected for a population of women exposed at an average age of 51 years. Thus, our data provide additional evidence that there is little if any risk of radiation-induced breast cancer associated with exposure of breast tissue to low-dose radiation (e.g., from mammographic x rays or adjuvant radiotherapy) in later life.

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Dr. G. Quade