8.2 Radiotherapy for basal cell carcinoma
Unless stated otherwise, tumour stage is according to the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) cancer staging manual 8th edition  and Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) TNM classification of malignant tumours 8th edition.
Radiotherapy (RT) has been used for treating basal cell carcinoma (BCC) for over a century. It is an efficacious alternative treatment for primary untreated BCC in a minority of patients when surgery is disadvantageous:
- when surgery is not feasible (e.g. in patients unfit for surgery, including those with significant coagulation risk)
- when the patient declines surgery
- when surgery will cause cosmetic or functional morbidity unacceptable to the patient (e.g. nasectomy, loss of function of lips or eyelids, large tissue deficits, multiple lesions).
Radiotherapy is also used in the management of metastatic BCC.
Unlike topical therapies, RT is not limited to certain BCC histological subtypes.
Systematic review evidence[edit source]
In which patients with basal cell carcinoma does a radiotherapy modality achieve equal or better outcomes than conventional surgery?
A systematic review was undertaken to evaluate in which patients with basal cell carcinoma a radiotherapy modality achieves equal or better outcomes than conventional surgery.
The search strategy, inclusion and exclusion criteria, and quality assessment are described in detail in the Technical report.
Twenty studies were identified that assessed outcomes in patients treated with RT for BCC and met the inclusion criteria, including five representing level III-2 evidence  and 15 level IV.
Participants were mainly patients for whom surgery was unsuitable. Many different RT techniques were used, including different types of external-beam radiotherapy (EBRT) and brachytherapy.
Response rates[edit source]
Four studies reported response rates for patients with BCC treated with RT or brachytherapy. Three reported complete response rates greater than 95% following treatment by EBRT or brachytherapy, in a combined total of 231 patients, with follow-up ranging from 3 months to 4 years. Another small study reported a complete response rate of 97.9% for those treated with 40 Gy radiotherapy, and 88.9% response rate for those treated with 50 Gy (n=9).
Recurrence rates[edit source]
Recurrence rates ranged from 2% to 10% in a combined total of 2987 patients, with a follow-up of up to 5 years.
A single study reported comparative recurrence rates in patients treated by surgery, adjuvant RT, or RT alone. After a median follow-up of 33 months, patients treated by surgery alone (n=244) had a recurrence rate of 5.3%. The recurrence rate rose to 10% in those treated by surgery and RT (n=20), and to 20% in those treated by RT alone (n=19).
Recurrence can occur at any time after RT, but 88–90% of recurrences were reported to occur within the first 5 years. Among patients treated with a curative dose, reported 5-year recurrence rates were approximately 5%.
Control rates at 5 years and 10 years post treatment were greater than 85% across all studies (reported for 974 patients).
Cosmetic outcomes[edit source]
Good or excellent outcomes were reported in 62–100% of the 308 patients included.
Overview of additional evidence (non-systematic literature review)[edit source]
Outcomes of RT series and other relevant clinical findings were reported in additional studies that did not meet inclusion criteria.
Control rates[edit source]
|Lesion size||T Stage||5 years||10 years|
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Basal cell carcinoma of medial canthus[edit source]
Radiotherapy has comparable control rates to surgery but results in superior tissue conservation.
A small case series reported good cancer outcomes and cosmetic outcomes for high-dose-rate brachytherapy in the treatment of tumours of the medial canthus of the eyelid, the majority of which were BCCs. At median follow-up of 40 months investigators reported a local control rate of 94% and good or excellent cosmetic outcomes in 70% of patients.
Recurrent tumours of the medial canthus require surgical salvage.
Recurrence of basal cell carcinoma following radiotherapy[edit source]
Recurrent BCC should be treated with excisional surgery, including excision of the irradiated tissues, by a specialist surgeon.
Salvage re-irradiation can be considered In some circumstances (e.g. a long disease-free interval) when surgery cannot be performed. Surgery may be preferred to re-irradiation, as there is increased risk of more serious late RT-related sequelae (radionecrosis of skin and other underlying tissues).
Residual basal cell carcinoma following radiotherapy[edit source]
Complete clinical resolution of a BCC following curative radiotherapy can occasionally take up to 4 months. Most small BCC resolve by the time the acute radiation reaction has resolved (4–6 weeks after finishing radiotherapy).
Postoperative radiotherapy for aggressive tumours[edit source]
Postoperative RT has been reported to increase local control rates for extensive, locally advanced BCCs where complete surgical excision cannot be achieved, and for head-and-neck BCCs with aggressive features on histopathology.
A small case series reported a 5-year cure rate of 55.13% with definitive RT for extensive and recurrent BCC.
Postoperative radiotherapy for residual tumours following incomplete excision[edit source]
Re-excision following incomplete excision of BCC is controversial (Protocol to manage incomplete resected basal cell carcinoma). Approximately two-thirds of incompletely excised BCCs do not recur. Some authors have reported similar rates for salvage of recurrent lesions. However, a Canadian case series of incompletely resected BCCs reported that 6% were eventually not controlled after salvage. Numerically higher rates of recurrence have been reported when the deep margin is involved, compared with a lateral margin, and higher again when both are involved.
Following incomplete excision, re-excision surgery is usually performed as complete excisional surgery is more accessible, expedient and convenient, and has optimal cancer outcomes and cosmetic outcomes. However, RT is an option following incomplete excision of primary BCCs when surgery is declined, likely to be associated with unacceptable function and cosmetic outcomes, or is not feasible (e.g. due to comorbidity). Margins added for RT fields depend on tumour size and histology.
Salvage radiotherapy[edit source]
Control rates after salvage therapy are lower than those for primary treatment and are associated with size of the recurrent tumour, number of recurrences and invasion of skeletal muscle, cartilage or bone.
Radiotherapy has been reported to increase local control in advanced BCC.
Radiotherapy has been reported to be successful as a salvage treatment for recurrence of BCC post Mohs micrographic surgery.
Evidence summary and recommendations[edit source]
|Recurrence and control
Recurrence rate were relatively low (≤10%) across all reported studies, and were comparable for surgery only and RT only. Short-term recurrence rates were variable across studies, and were dependent on patient-related factors. Control rates after approximately 10 years of follow-up were >90% in all studies.
|III-2, IV||, , , , , , , , , , , , , , |
Overall survival and disease-free survival were high, but variable across the included studies, ranging from 57% to 97%, depending on follow-up time.
Survival outcomes were likely to have been influenced by patients’ ages, disease characteristics, and comorbidities.
|III-2, IV||, , , , , , |
Substantial acute and late toxicities were reported in <25% of treated patients following RT or brachytherapy.
|IV||, , , , , , |
|Cosmetic outcomes and complications
Treatment by RT or brachytherapy resulted in good or excellent cosmetic outcomes in most, if not all patients.
Fewer than half of patients experienced treatment-related complications or side effects. Adverse effects were more pronounced in patients treated with higher RT doses and higher dose per fraction.
|III-2, IV||, , , , , , , , |
CBR 8.2.1. For patients with T3/T4 primary persistent or recurrent basal cell carcinoma, consideration should be given to obtaining an opinion from a radiation oncologist as part of multidisciplinary care.
Notes on the recommendations[edit source]
Radiotherapy may be considered in some cases when function and/or cosmesis are a high priority, as RT is tissue-conserving when compared with surgery.
- Radiotherapy – Introduction
- Radiotherapy with or without surgical treatment for keratinocyte cancer
- Radiotherapy for primary cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma
- Radiotherapy for regional (nodal) metastatic disease (non-distant)
- Radiotherapy for actinic keratosis and cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma in situ
- Radiotherapy for keratoacanthoma
- Recent advances in the radiotherapy of skin cancer
- Management of side effects of radiotherapy
- Radiotherapy – health system implications and discussion
|PICO question RT2|| Evidence statement form RT2
| Systematic review report RT2
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