The dosimetric impact of axillary nodes contouring variability in breast cancer radiotherapy: An AIRO multi-institutional study

the Collaborative Italian Association of Radiotherapy and Clinical Oncology (AIRO) Breast Study Group

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aim: To quantify the dosimetric impact of contouring variability of axillary lymph nodes (L2, L3, L4) in breast cancer (BC) locoregional radiotherapy (RT). Materials and methods: 18 RT centres were asked to plan a locoregional treatment on their own planning target volume (single centre, SC-PTV) which was created by applying their institutional margins to the clinical target volume of the axillary nodes of three BC patients (P1, P2, P3) previously delineated (SC-CTV). The gold standard CTVs (GS-CTVs) of P1, P2 and P3 were developed by BC experts’ consensus and validated with STAPLE algorithm. For each participating centre, the GS-PTV of each patient was created by applying the same margins as those used for the SC-CTV to SC-PTV expansion and replaced the SC-PTV in the treatment plan. Datasets were imported into MIM v6.1.7 [MIM Software Inc.], where dose-volume histograms (DVHs) were extracted and differences were analysed. Results: 17/18 centres used intensity-modulated RT (IMRT). The CTV to PTV margins ranged from 0 to 10 mm (median 5 mm). No correlation was observed between GS-CTV coverage by 95% isodose and GS-PTV margins width. Doses delivered to 98% (D98) and 95% (D95) of GS-CTVs were significantly lower than those delivered to the SC-CTVs. No significant difference between SC-CTV and GS-CTV was observed in maximum dose (D2), always under 110%. Mean dose ≥99% of the SC-CTVs and GS-CTVs was satisfied in 84% and 50%, respectively. In less than one half of plans, GS-CTV V95% was above 90%. Breaking down the GS-CTV into the three nodal levels (L2, L3 and L4), L4 had the lowest probability to be covered by the 95% isodose. Conclusions: Overall, GS-CTV resulted worse coverage, especially for L4. IMRT was largely used and CTV-to-PTV margins did not compensate for contouring issues. The results highlighted the need for delineation training and standardization.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-120
Number of pages8
JournalRadiotherapy and Oncology
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


  • Breast cancer
  • Dosimetry
  • Inter-observer variability
  • Nodal contouring
  • Radiotherapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Hematology
  • Oncology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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