Hold Your Breath to Protect Your Heart

“Women who have breast cancer on their left side present a particular challenge to radiation oncologists. Studies have shown that the risk of heart disease is higher in this group of women after radiation treatment because it can be difficult to ensure that a sufficient dose of radiation is delivered to the left breast while adequately shielding the heart from exposure. New research shows a woman who holds her breath during radiation pulses can greatly reduce radiation exposure to the heart.

” ‘Radiation therapy is commonly prescribed to patients with breast cancer following surgery as a component of first-line therapy,’ said first author Harriet Eldredge-Hindy, M.D., a Chief Resident and researcher in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Thomas Jefferson University ‘We wanted to determine how effective breath-hold could be in shielding the heart from extraneous radiation exposure during treatment of the left breast.’

“Recent studies have shown women with cancer in the left breast are at higher risk of heart disease, and that the risk increases proportionately with the dose of radiation the heart is exposed to during treatment. A number of techniques have been developed to reduce exposure to the heart including prone positioning (lying flat on the belly on a bed that only exposes the left breast), intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), and accelerated partial breast irradiation. The breath-hold technique allows doctors to monitor a patient’s breath for the position that shifts the heart out of the range of the radiation beam.”