A local hospital is trying a simple technique to protect patients who are undergoing treatment for breast cancer.
It’s designed for women who have had a Lumpectomy, who usually undergo radiation therapy afterwards.
There is a new linear accelerator at Penn Highlands Dubois. It’s used to treat various types of cancer. Special molds help position patients with breast, prostate, head and neck, and other cancers for the best dose of radiation to the tumor, with the least exposure to healthy tissue.
The Hahne Regional Cancer Center has added another measure of safety for some women with breast cancer, those whose tumor is in the left breast, the same side as their heart.
“When we treat the left breast, part of the left ventricle is in the treatment beam and in part the left anterior descending artery so anyway, that can put a person at increased risk down the road for a heart attack,” said Dr. Grae Schuster, from Penn Highlands Dubois.
Dr Grae Schuster says in general the risk of danger to the heart from radiation is small, but it’s still important to take extra steps to protect it.
One step involves blocking the treatment beam from the majority of the heart. Another step requires the patient’s participation.
“For approximately two-thirds of the women we treat for left-sided breast cancer, taking in a deep breath and holding it will significantly reduce the dose to the heart,” said Dr. Schuster. “It creates a space between the rib cage and the heart, so radiation misses the heart as it’s passing through the breast.”
The breath hold technique requires women to hold their breath for 20 to 30 seconds and to inflate their lungs the same amount for each treatment.
Dr. Schuster says most patients the technique applies to, appreciate the effort to reduce their risk of complications and side effects.
“Typically it can take a good 15, 20, 30 years, to develop heart damage from radiation, so for a lot of elderly patients it’s not a major concern but for younger and middle-aged women, it’s definitely a concern and it’s definitely reduces the radiation to their hearts,” said Dr. Schuster.
There’s also a breath hold technique for women whose tumor is in the right breast, if there’s a potential for issues with their lungs.