De-escalation of axillary irradiation for early breast cancer – Has the time come?

Elżbieta Senkus*, Maria Joao Cardoso, Orit Kaidar-Person, Aleksandra Łacko, Icro Meattini, Philip Poortmans

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Introduction of sentinel lymph node biopsy, initially in clinically node-negative and subsequently in patients presenting with involved axilla and downstaged by primary systemic therapy, allowed for significant decrease in morbidity compared to axillary lymph node dissection. Concurrently, regional nodal irradiation was demonstrated to improve outcomes in most node-positive patients. Additionally, over the last decades, introduction of more effective systemic therapies has resulted in improvements not only at distant sites, but also in locoregional control, creating space for de-escalation of locoregional treatments. We discuss the data on de-escalation in axillary surgery and irradiation, both in patients undergoing upfront surgery and primary systemic therapy, with special emphasis on the feasibility of omission of nodal irradiation in patients undergoing primary systemic therapy. In view of the accumulating evidence, omission of axillary irradiation may be considered in clinically node-positive patients converting after primary systemic therapy to pathologically negative nodes on sentinel lymph node biopsy (preferably also with in-breast pCR), presenting with lower initial nodal stage, older age and were treated with breast-conserving surgery followed by whole breast irradiation. Omission of regional nodal irradiation in patients with aggressive tumor phenotypes achieving a pCR is under investigation. In patients undergoing preoperative endocrine therapy the adoption of axillary management strategies utilized in case of upfront surgery seems more suitable than those used in post chemotherapy-based primary systemic therapy setting.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102297
JournalCancer Treatment Reviews
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Axillary de-escalation
  • Breast cancer
  • Primary systemic therapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Sentinel lymph node biopsy


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