Latest research on treatment of DCIS

Women with the most common type of non-invasive breast cancer known as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) are significantly less likely to develop invasive disease if they are given radiotherapy after surgery, and the effect is long lasting, according to the long-term results of the UK, Australia, and New Zealand (UK/ANZ) DCIS trial, published Online First in The Lancet Oncology. Moreover, treatment with tamoxifen significantly reduces the likelihood of local cancer coming back after surgery.

Ductal carcinoma in situ

DCIS refers to cancer in the milk ducts of the breast, and now represents around 20-25% of screen detected breast cancers. The introduction of the UK National Health Service Breast Screening Programme has led to a substantial increase in the diagnosis of DCIS over the past two decades. Standard treatments after breast-conserving surgery include radiotherapy and hormone therapy. Survival following treatment is about 98%, but the risk of local recurrence and a new cancer in the opposite breast is high.

Long-lasting benefit of radiotherapy

Radiotherapy after surgery reduced the relative risk of new invasive cancer in the same breast by almost 70% and decreased recurrent DCIS in the same breast by over 60%, corresponding to an absolute 10-year reduction in local cancer recurrences of 12.3%. Treatment with radiotherapy had no effect on cancer risk in the other breast.

Tamoxifen reduces recurrence

Treatment with tamoxifen significantly reduced all new breast events, corresponding to an absolute 10-year reduction of 6.5%. Tamoxifen lowered the relative risk of recurrence in the same breast by around 30% (an absolute 10-year reduction of 3.9%) and decreased the risk of new cancer in the other breast by over 65% (an absolute 10-year reduction of 2.3%). However, tamoxifen had no effect on invasive cancer in the same breast as the initial DCIS, and seemed to have no added benefit in patients who were given radiotherapy.

The authors say:

This updated analysis confirms the long-term beneficial effect of radiotherapy and reports a benefit for tamoxifen in reducing local and contralateral new breast events for women with DCIS treated by complete local excision.


This trial emphasises the importance of radiotherapy in high-grade [more quickly growing and more likely to spread] DCIS and also suggests a role for tamoxifen primarily for new contralateral disease. 

Source: The Lancet Oncology