New research shows that a breast cancer patient who holds her breath during radiation treatment can greatly reduce exposure to the heart. Recent studies have shown that women with cancer in the left breast are at higher risk of heart disease. Such women present a particular challenge to radiation oncologists because it can be difficult to ensure that a sufficient dose of radiation is delivered to while adequately shielding the heart from exposure.

“We wanted to determine how effective breath-hold could be in shielding the heart from extraneous radiation exposure during treatment of the left breast,” said first study author Harriet Eldredge-Hindy, researcher in the department of radiation oncology at Thomas Jefferson University.

The breath-holding 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 eight years post treatment, 81 women were asked to hold their breath during radiation treatment for breast cancer.

The researchers found that patients capable of holding their breath over the course of treatment had a 90 percent disease-free survival and a 96 percent overall survival, with a median reduction in radiation dose to the heart of 62 percent.

“Given that this technique helps to shield the heart during radiation treatment for breast cancer, we routinely offer breast cancer treatment with the breath hold technique at Thomas Jefferson,” said associate professor

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