In a first-of-its-kind study, patients with breast cancer who underwent implant-based breast reconstruction immediately following a mastectomy reported that getting fewer, higher doses of radiation was just as effective as standard radiation, did not increase side effects, and saved them time and money. There also was a small improvement in quality of life for patients younger than 45 years who received the shortened treatment regimen.
The FABREC study is the first prospective randomized study comparing quality-of-life and clinical outcomes following accelerated vs conventional radiation therapy specifically for patients undergoing postmastectomy implant- or tissue-based breast reconstruction. Findings were presented by Julia Wong, MD, FASTRO, and colleagues at the 2023 American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) Annual Meeting (Abstract LBA 05).
Julia Wong, MD, FASTRO
Rinaa Punglia, MD, MPH, FASTRO
“Both the accelerated and standard courses of treatment were equally effective at preventing the cancer from returning and had the same level of side effects. But with shortening the treatment from 5 weeks to 3 [weeks], patients experienced fewer treatment disruptions, a lower financial burden, and other meaningful improvements to their lives,” said senior study author Rinaa Punglia, MD, MPH, FASTRO, Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center.
Mastectomy and Reconstruction Among Patients With Breast Cancer
About 40% of patients with breast cancer undergo mastectomies and of that group, 62% undergo immediate reconstruction. Reconstruction using tissue expanders or breast implants has grown in popularity in recent years.
Roughly one-third of patients who undergo mastectomies also receive radiation therapy to the chest wall and lymph nodes to prevent disease recurrence. While standard radiation therapy generally occurs over a period of 5 weeks, research has shown a shorter course of treatment can be just as effective at preventing the cancer from returning in patients who have undergone breast-conserving surgery. Prior research also shows the shorter regimen does not increase side effects and can improve quality of life for these patients.
FABREC is the first study to compare the shorter and longer courses of postmastectomy radiation specifically for people who had their breasts reconstructed immediately following mastectomy. Investigators also compared results for people younger than 45 years vs those aged 45 years and older.
“Our main goal was to look at patient-reported outcomes, especially in terms of patient well-being,” said lead study author Dr. Wong, also an Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center. “We often focus on cancer outcomes, but there are a lot of quality-of-life issues involved in having a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, a combination a lot of patients are now choosing. We have to look at how these treatments affect patients.”
The multicenter FABREC trial involved 400 participants treated at 16 U.S. health centers who underwent mastectomies followed by immediate breast reconstruction using a tissue expander or implant. Patients were randomly assigned to receive either conventional radiation consisting of 25 fractions across 5 weeks (50 Gy total; n = 201) or hypofractionated radiation consisting of 16 fractions across roughly 3 weeks (42.56 Gy total; n = 199).
All patients were diagnosed with stage 0 to III breast cancer with tumors of any size but not growing into the chest wall or skin. The median age was 47 years. Patients completed questionnaires about their physical well-being and quality of life at baseline and at 6, 12, and 18 months following treatment. Median follow-up was 40.4 months.
Quality-of-Life and Clinical Outcomes
Patients in both groups reported similar levels of physical well-being 6 months after treatment, the primary endpoint of the study (P = .71). There were some differences between the groups at baseline, including higher energy levels reported by those randomly assigned to receive hypofractionated radiation (P = .02). Dr. Punglia said this finding likely reflects their positive reactions to the shortened treatment.
“In our protocol, patients could complete their baseline questionnaire either before or after randomization, as long as it was before they started radiation. And so, patients could be aware of their treatment arm when they answered the questions,” she said. “It seems patients felt more energetic because they knew they would be done with treatment faster.”
Treatment breaks, which are associated with worse outcomes in breast cancer, were significantly fewer (2.7% vs. 7.7% with conventional treatment, P = .03) and shorter with the accelerated treatment (average = 2.8 days vs. 3.3 with conventional treatment, P = .03). Patients who needed unpaid time off work also reported taking 50 fewer hours of unpaid leave with the accelerated regimen (73.7 hours) vs the conventional regimen (125.8 hours, P = .046).
There were small improvements in quality-of-life scores among younger patients treated with hypofractionated radiation. Patients younger than 45 reported feeling less bothered by treatment-related side effects (P = .045) with the accelerated treatments. They also reported better physical well-being (P = .049).
There were no differences in the rates of recurrence or side effects between the two groups. Two people—one in each arm—experienced a local recurrence, and 23 (12 in the conventional arm and 11 in the hypofractionated arm) had cancer return to distant sites. Four patients—two in each arm—died during the study period; all were diagnosed with distant metastases.
The overall rates of chest wall toxicity were lower in both arms than rates previously reported with implant-based reconstruction, said Dr. Wong. Twenty patients in the hypofractionated group and 19 in the conventional group had toxicity in the chest wall area. The analysis found several factors predicted chest wall toxicity on univariate analysis, including higher body mass index (hazard ratio [HR] = 1.02, P = .003), having a postoperative infection (HR = 3.14, P = .01), whether lymph nodes needed to be dissected (HR = 2.07, P = .03), having more lymph nodes removed (HR = 1.05, P = .01), having a tissue expander vs an implant (HR = 3.32, P = .04), and receiving preoperative endocrine therapy (HR = 2.99, P = .001).
Though they had hoped to see more dramatic results, the researchers were content that delivering higher doses of radiation in less time did not increase side effects. “In fact, overall, the rates of chest wall toxicity were lower in both arms than what’s been seen historically, which is likely because of improvements over time in technique,” said Dr. Wong.
Disclosure: For full disclosures of the study authors, visit astro.org.The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.