Purpose: To assess for locoregional irradiation of breast cancer patients, the dependence of cardiac (cardiac mortality) and lung (radiation pneumonitis) complications on treatment technique and individual patient anatomy.Materials and methods: Three-dimensional treatment planning was performed for 30 patients with left-sided breast cancer and various breast sizes. Two locoregional techniques (Techniques A and B) and a tangential field technique, including only the breast in the target volume, were planned and evaluated for each patient. In both locoregional techniques tangential photon fields were used to irradiate the breast. The internal mammary (IM)-medial supraclavicular (MS) lymph nodes were treated with an anterior mixed electron/photon field (Technique A) or with an obliquely incident mixed electron/photon IM field and an anterior electron/photon MS field (Technique B). The optimal IM and MS electron field dimensions and energies were chosen on the basis of the IM-MS lymph node target volume as delineated on CT-slices. The position of the tangential fields was adapted to match the IM-MS fields. Dose-volume histograms (DVHs) and normal tissue complication probabilities (NTCPs) for the heart and lung were compared for the three techniques. In the beam's eye view of the medial tangential fields the maximum distance of the heart contour to the posterior field border was measured; this value was scored as the Maximum Heart Distance.Results: The lymph node target volume receiving more than 85% of the prescribed dose was on average 99% for both locoregional irradiation techniques. The breast PTV receiving more than 95% of the prescribed dose was generally smaller using Technique A (mean: 90%, range: 69-99%) than using Technique B (mean: 98%, range: 82-100%) or for the tangential field technique (mean: 98%, range: 91-100%). NTCP values for excess cardiac mortality due to acute myocardial ischemia varied considerably between patients, with minimum and maximum values of 0.1 and 7.5% (Technique A), 0.1 and 5.8% (Technique B) and 0.0 and 6.1% (tangential tech.). The NTCP values were on average significantly higher (P<0.001) by 1.7% (Technique A) and 1.0% (Technique B) when locoregional breast irradiation was given, compared with irradiation of the left breast only. The NTCP values for the tangential field technique could be estimated using the Maximum Heart Distance. NTCP values for radiation pneumonitis were very low for all techniques; between 0.0 and 1.0%.Conclusions: Technique B results in a good coverage of the breast and locoregional lymph nodes, while Technique A sometimes results in an underdosage of part of the target volume. Both techniques result in a higher probability of heart complications compared with tangential irradiation of the breast only. Irradiation toxicity for the lung is low in all techniques. The Maximum Heart Distance is a simple and useful parameter to estimate the NTCP values for cardiac mortality for tangential breast irradiation. © 2000 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd.