Device protects heart during breast cancer treatment

Local News

For women battling breast cancer, treatment can sometimes harm their hearts.
Now a Cleveland Hospital is using a technique to protect patients from radiation which can lead to heart disease.

Joyce McCain’s breast cancer was picked up in a routine mammogram earlier this year. The 65-year-old considered her active lifestyle and decided a lumpectomy with radiation was the right treatment for her. Then doctors explained there could be side effects for the heart. .  

Joyce’s cancer was in her left breast, so radiation to treat the cancer could also expose the heart to incidental radiation. And that can lead to heart disease.

“More commonly we worry about long-term side effects of the heart and that can include, for example, increased risk of coronary heart disease and subsequent heart attacks,” said Dr. Chirag Shah, Cleveland Clinic  

So Dr Shah  told Joyce about a technique they’re using that protects the heart from radiation while still delivering treatment effectively.

Patients wear a snorkel-like device during radiation. They take a deep breath and hold it, increasing the distance between the heart and the area getting the radiation.  

Dr. Shah said, “As the breast and the chest lift up during the inspiration, the heart stays where it is. So we’re able to treat the breast and chest while limiting the dose to the heart.

The Cleveland Clinic says using this active breathing technique is cutting radiation doses to the heart by 50 percent or more for patients in most cases. Something Joyce is grateful for. She needed 15 rounds of radiation.

“I feel good. I really do. I keep trying to do my exercises, I’m trying to eat the way they want me to eat. And I try not to dwell on it. I’m trying to keep it positive,” she said.

She’s now four months cancer free .   

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