A study to see if intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) improves cosmetic appearance for breast cancer patients

Cancer type:

Breast cancer




Phase 3

This study compared intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) with standard radiotherapy to find out which had the least effect on the appearance of the breast and which was more acceptable to women.

Radiotherapy is one of the treatments used for breast cancer. But, for some women, it can be difficult to deliver an even dose of radiotherapy to their breast. This is because women’s breasts vary so much in shape and size. An uneven delivery of radiotherapy to the breast can cause long term side effects, such as the development of scar tissue. This in turn can cause the treated breast to shrink.

This trial compared a new method of radiotherapy treatment with the standard radiotherapy treatment. The new method is called intensity modulated radiotherapy, or IMRT for short. IMRT allows the doctors to shape the radiotherapy beams more accurately. It also alters the radiotherapy dose depending on the thickness of the tissue, so it gives the same dose of radiotherapy across the breast. This may cause fewer side effects.

The aim of this study was to find out if IMRT could give a better cosmetic appearance for breast cancer patients after radiotherapy.

Summary of results

Everyone who agreed to take part in this study had breast surgery before radiotherapy.

Of the 1,145 women who agreed to take part in this study, 814 were able to be randomised Open a glossary item to have IMRT or standard treatment.

The study team photographed the women’s breast before surgery and then 2 years after radiotherapy. They compared the photos and noted the difference in the size of their breast treated with radiotherapy.

At the 2 year follow up, they found no significant difference between the 2 groups when they compared the amount of shrinkage in their treated breast. They also compared the side effects of IMRT and standard radiotherapy. Women who had IMRT had fewer small red lines (telangiectasia) on their treated breast.

The study team found that a major part of hardening of the breast and shrinkage results from surgery and not radiotherapy at 2 years following treatment.

The study team concluded that how a woman’s breast looked after surgery was an important consideration of how their breast looked after radiotherapy. They think that it may be too early to see the long term benefits of IMRT at 2 years following treatment and the results at 5 years will be published in due course.

We have based this summary on information from the team who ran the trial. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (peer reviewed Open a glossary item) and published in a medical journal. The figures we quote above were provided by the trial team. We have not analysed the data ourselves.

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

How to join a clinical trial

Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Dr M. Moody

Supported by

Breast Cancer Campaign
National Institute for Health Research Cancer Research Network (NCRN)

Questions about cancer? Contact our information nurses

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:

Oracle - 295

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Harriet wanted to try new treatments

A picture of Harriet

“I was keen to go on a clinical trial. I wanted to try new cancer treatments and hopefully help future generations.”

Last reviewed:

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