Deep-breathing technique can help breast-cancer radiation patients

Denise Dador Image
Thursday, May 19, 2016
Deep-breathing technique can help breast-cancer radiation patients
Doctors are teaching breast-cancer patients a breathing technique that can help reduce their heart's exposure to radiation.

Imagine if the side effects of radiation could be reduced, just by holding the breath.

Patients with cancer in the left breast are particularly susceptible to side effects because of the proximity of the heart to where radiation is administered.

For those patients, a technique called "deep inspiration breath hold" is helping to reduce the risk of future heart disease by creating distance between the radiation and the heart.

"The patient will have to hold their breath, take a deep breath, and by doing so, they fill their lung volume, and have a separation between the heart and the breast," said Alonso Gutierrez, an associate professor of radiation oncology at the University of Texas in San Antonio.

As a patient is treated with radiation, she wears special goggles that display a window with a bar in it. The display helps to guide the patient in proper breathing technique as the radiation is administered.

If cameras observe the patient move out of safety range, the radiation is automatically cut off.

Patient Christine Casteneda says it's a bit challenging.

"It's just the staying still and not moving," she said. "That's what's hard about it."

Compared to conventional radiation for left-side breast tumors, studies show the deep inspiration breath hold technique could reduce the average dose of radiation to the heart by 50 percent.