A trial looking at the timing of chemotherapy and radiotherapy after breast cancer surgery (SECRAB)

Cancer type:

Breast cancer




Phase 3

This trial looked at the timing of radiotherapy and chemotherapy after surgery for early breast cancer. This trial was supported by Cancer Research UK.

Doctors often use radiotherapy and chemotherapy after surgery to treat breast cancer. Treatment after surgery is called adjuvant treatment, and the aim is to help stop the cancer coming back.

In this trial some women had radiotherapy and chemotherapy at the same time, and some had chemotherapy first and then radiotherapy. Doctors wanted to find out if the timing of radiotherapy makes any difference to the risk of the cancer coming back, or to quality of life.

The aim of this trial was to find out

  • Which treatment was best at stopping the cancer coming back
  • More about the side effects
  • How it affected quality of life

Summary of results

The trial team found that having chemotherapy and radiotherapy together was better at stopping breast cancer coming back than having chemotherapy and then radiotherapy.

This trial recruited 2,296 women with early stage breast cancer. They all had surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

  • 1,146 women had radiotherapy after chemotherapy (sequential treatment)
  • 1,150 women had radiotherapy between 2 cycles of chemotherapy (synchronous treatment)

The research team looked at the number of cancers that had come back in the breast area 5 years after treatment. This is called local recurrence. They found that the cancer came back in

  • Just over 5 out of every hundred women (5.1%) who had sequential treatment
  • Just under 3 out of every hundred women (2.8%) who had synchronous treatment

They also looked at side effects and quality of life. The women who had radiotherapy between cycles of chemotherapy had more side effects from radiotherapy (such as sore skin). But there was no difference in the results of the quality of life questionnaires between the 2 groups.

The research team concluded that having radiotherapy and chemotherapy at the same time does help stop breast cancer coming back.

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) but may not have been 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 Fernando

Supported by

Cancer Research UK
NIHR Clinical Research Network: Cancer

Other information

This is Cancer Research UK trial number CRUK/98/001.

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:

Oracle 29

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

Deborah wanted to help other breast cancer patients in the future

A picture of Deborah

“Deborah agreed to take part in a trial as she was keen to help other cancer patients in the future. "If taking part in a trial means others might be helped then I’m very happy with that."

Last reviewed:

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