How we protect breast cancer patients’ hearts during radiation therapy

Many breast cancer patients undergo radiation therapy as part of their treatment. While radiation therapy often comes with side effects, such as skin irritation and fatigue, patients with left-sided breast cancer have an added concern: potential for heart disease. Years ago, researchers discovered that many patients who underwent radiation therapy to the left breast later developed heart conditions, including pericardial disease, conduction abnormalities, coronary artery disease, congestive heart disease, heart valve disease and even sudden cardiac death. Scientists linked these problems to the heart’s exposure to radiation during treatment. That’s why MD Anderson now takes extra precautions to protect patients’ hearts during radiation therapy. Our goal is to offer state-of-the-art radiation therapy for breast cancer without increasing the risk of long-term heart issues. How we protect the heart during radiation therapy Here are four methods that we use at MD Anderson to reduce the risk of radiation-induced heart disease. Multi-leaf collimation: Our linear accelerator machines are equipped with a special shield to protect the heart from radiation exposure. This shield has multiple leafs that can move independently in and out of the path of the radiation beam to allow the radiation to target cancer cells while protecting nearby healthy tissue. Prone technique: We sometimes use this method for large-chested patients who are able to lay face-down and suspend their breast away from the chest. This allows us to radiate the tumor and protect the chest wall simultaneously. Respiratory-gating: Also known as deep inspiration breath-hold (DIBH) technique, respiratory-gating requires patients to hold their breath while radiation therapy is delivered. Doing so allows the heart to temporarily move closer to the...

How we protect breast cancer patients’ hearts during radiation therapy

Many breast cancer patients undergo radiation therapy as part of their treatment. While radiation therapy often comes with side effects, such as skin irritation and fatigue, patients with left-sided breast cancer have an added concern: potential for heart disease. Years ago, researchers discovered that many patients who underwent radiation therapy to the left breast later developed heart conditions, including pericardial disease, conduction abnormalities, coronary artery disease, congestive heart disease, heart valve disease and even sudden cardiac death. Scientists linked these problems to the heart’s exposure to radiation during treatment. That’s why MD Anderson now takes extra precautions to protect patients’ hearts during radiation therapy. Our goal is to offer state-of-the-art radiation therapy for breast cancer without increasing the risk of long-term heart issues. How we protect the heart during radiation therapy Here are four methods that we use at MD Anderson to reduce the risk of radiation-induced heart disease. Multi-leaf collimation: Our linear accelerator machines are equipped with a special shield to protect the heart from radiation exposure. This shield has multiple leafs that can move independently in and out of the path of the radiation beam to allow the radiation to target cancer cells while protecting nearby healthy tissue. Prone technique: We sometimes use this method for large-chested patients who are able to lay face-down and suspend their breast away from the chest. This allows us to radiate the tumor and protect the chest wall simultaneously. Respiratory-gating: Also known as deep inspiration breath-hold (DIBH) technique, respiratory-gating requires patients to hold their breath while radiation therapy is delivered. Doing so allows the heart to temporarily move closer to the...