Hold Your Breath to Protect Your Heart

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Hold Your Breath to Protect Your Heart
Hold Your Breath to Protect Your Heart

A simple technique may be most effective in preventing heart disease after radiation therapy for breast cancer. 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, MD, 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 that 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.

In the largest prospective study to date, following women for 8 years post-treatment, 81 women were asked to hold their breath during radiation treatment for breast cancer—a process that was repeated until therapeutic dose was reached. The researchers found that patients capable of holding their breath over the course of treatment had a 90% disease-free survival, and a 96% overall survival, with a median reduction in radiation dose to the heart of 62%. The findings were published online this week in the journal Practical Radiation Oncology.

“Given that this technique helps to shield the heart during radiation treatment for breast cancer,” said Rani Anne, MD, associate professor of radiation oncology at Thomas Jefferson University and senior author on the study, “we routinely offer breast cancer treatment with the breath hold technique at Jefferson.”

Additional work recently presented at the 2014 American Society for Radiation Oncology in San Francisco carried the work further in order to determine whether protection from the additional radiation dose in fact translated to a reduction in ischemic heart disease. Dr. Anne, together with first author Harriet Eldredge-Hindy, MD, showed that this same cohort of patients will likely have a reduced risk of after 10 years. The study showed that patients who held their breath during radiation therapy had only a 1.4% rate of ischemic heart disease after 8 years of follow-up and an estimated rate of 3.6% after 10 years.

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Thomas Jefferson University via Newswise.

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Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the Medical Bag or its staff.


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