BACKGROUND: Extracapsular tumor spread (ECS) has been identified as a possible risk factor for breast cancer recurrence, but controversy exists regarding its role in decision making for regional radiotherapy. This study evaluates ECS as a predictor of local, axillary, and supraclavicular recurrence. PATIENTS AND METHODS: International Breast Cancer Study Group Trial VI accrued 1475 eligible pre- and perimenopausal women with node-positive breast cancer who were randomly assigned to receive three to nine courses of classical combination chemotherapy with cyclophosphamide, methotrexate, and fluorouracil. ECS status was determined retrospectively in 933 patients based on review of pathology reports. Cumulative incidence and hazard ratios (HRs) were estimated using methods for competing risks analysis. Adjustment factors included treatment group and baseline patient and tumor characteristics. The median follow-up was 14 years. RESULTS: In univariable analysis, ECS was significantly associated with supraclavicular recurrence (HR = 1.96; 95% confidence interval 1.23-3.13; P = 0.005). HRs for local and axillary recurrence were 1.38 (P = 0.06) and 1.81 (P = 0.11), respectively. Following adjustment for number of lymph node metastases and other baseline prognostic factors, ECS was not significantly associated with any of the three recurrence types studied. CONCLUSIONS: Our results indicate that the decision for additional regional radiotherapy should not be based solely on the presence of ECS.