Cross-border referral for early breast cancer: an analysis of radiation fractionation patterns.
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Because of increasing waiting times for adjuvant radiation in the province of Ontario, patients from one Canadian centre were referred to two centres in the United States. This situation provided an opportunity to compare radiation practices.We performed a retrospective review of radiation prescribed to patients following breast-conserving surgery for invasive breast cancer. Patients with positive margins, 4 or more positive lymph nodes, recurrent disease, or large tumours (>5 cm) were excluded. For comparison, we reviewed a random sample of similar patients treated at the Canadian centre during the same period. A total of 120 referred and 217 non-referred patients were eligible for comparison. The analysis included 98 pairs of patients (N = 196), fully matched on age, nodal status, T stage, grade, and estrogen receptor (er) status.Mean patient age was 60.7 years. The median total dose and number of fractions differed between centres [6040 cGy in 32 fractions (United States) vs. 4250 cGy in 16 fractions (Canadian), both p < 0.001). Boost was used more often in the United States (97% vs. 9%, p < 0.001). Variation in prescribing patterns was seen. In the United States, seven different schedules for whole-breast irradiation were used; at the Canadian centre, two schedules were prescribed. Predicted radiobiologic effects of these schedules were calculated to be similar.Differences in fractionation patterns were observed between and within U.S. and Canadian centres. Such variability is likely to affect patient convenience and resource utilization. Although patient selection, referring surgeon, and change in policies may account for some of the observed differences, further research is necessary to better understand the causes.
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