Just a Simple Breath Hold

November 2nd, 2015

A simple breath hold can protect your heart during breast cancer treatment. Radiation therapy is commonly used to reduce the chance of breast cancer recurrence following surgery. However, when the breast cancer is located on the left side, clinicians face a challenge because breast tissue is close to the heart. When the heart is exposed to radiation, it can increase risk for cardiovascular disease.

There is a solution.

At the SIH Cancer Institute, we take care to minimize radiation exposure to the heart using a simple breath-holding technique and some highly sophisticated technology.

The deep inspiration breath-hold technique, (or DIBH) is the latest method in protecting the heart from radiation exposure. “Internal imaging techniques show that when a person takes a deep breath, the heart moves to the right and back, away from the breast tissue,” said Lori Cohen, manager of Radiation Treatment at the SIH Cancer Institute. “When the heart is in that position is when we want to deliver the radiation.”

As one might imagine, it can be difficult to know the heart’s location at any given moment given its central location in the body. But doctors at the SIH Cancer Institute use real-time, 3D surface monitoring of the breast tissue and chest wall, called VisionRT.

This consists of three cameras suspended above the radiation treatment table. With the visual feedback generated from this, clinicians can guide the patient and monitor their position throughout treatment. This allows them to make sure radiation is only delivered when the patient is holding a deep breath (DIBH) and the heart is in a safe position.

As soon as the patient takes a deep breath and their position is perfect, the radiation beam is automatically enabled. When the patient breathes out, the coordinates will change; automatically halting the radiation beam. The above process is then repeated until the full dose of radiation is delivered.

“This revolutionary technique allows us to safely deliver the required radiation to the breast by moving the heart out of the field of treatment,” said Dr. Michael Little, Radiation Oncologist.

The VisionRT cameras only use optical information, so no additional radiation is used during treatment.