A limited number of clinical trials have been performed in the last 20 years to test the validity of techniques for preserving the breast in patients with a mammary carcinoma. From the trials published, a number of conclusions can be formulated: (a) quadrantectomy, axillary dissection, and radiotherapy for small tumors is a procedure as safe as the Halsted mastectomy in terms of local, regional, and distant recurrences, and long-term survival (Milan trial, Villejuif trial); (b) limited resection plus axillary dissection without radiotherapy exposes the patients to a high risk of local recurrences (NSABP trial); and (c) large resection without axillary dissection and with inadequate radiotherapy will increase the risk of axillary recurrences (Guy's Hospital trial). Whether the increase of local/regional recurrences will decrease the long-term survival rates (Guy's Hospital) or will not influence the survival (NSABP) must be clarified. The main problems to be faced by future trials are: the extent of the surgical act (limited excision versus extensive resection, axillary dissection versus no dissection, total axillary dissection versus axillary sampling), the type of radiotherapy (immediate versus delayed, whole breast versus limited direct field, boost versus no boost, regional nodes irradiation versus no nodal irradiation), the comparison with other forms of surgery providing good cosmetic results (conservative treatments versus total mastectomy plus immediate reconstruction), the size of primary tumor to be submitted to conservation procedures, and the pathologic patterns requiring differentiated conservative technique (lobular carcinoma in situ, intraductal noninfiltrating carcinoma, Paget's disease, and minimal carcinoma).
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