Human Heart

Deep Inspiration Breath Hold - Protect Your Heart During Radiation Treatment

Dr. Hiral Fontanilla, Medical Director of the Breast Program at St. Mary Medical Center

August 17, 2018 - 11:10 am

Radiation is a common and effective treatment for breast cancer, but it can cause heart-related problems for the patient years down the road. When radiation is beamed at the left breast, the heart may also receive some of the radiation, because of its location in the body.  Dr. Hiral Fontanilla, Medical Director of the Breast Program at St. Mary Medical Center says patients can suffer heart damage during treatment, and years later this can increase their risk of heart disease.

DIBH
She says one way to protect the heart during treatment is to teach patients a technique called Deep Inspiration Breath-Hold. When a woman takes a deep breath and holds it, the chest moves out and the heart moves down along with the diaphragm. She says that creates a space between the breast and the heart. That space is enough to keep that vital organ away from the radiation beam.

Another successful way to protect the heart is called prone-breast radiation, where the patient is treated on her stomach during radiation. A hole in the table allows the woman's left breast to hang down away from the heart. Radiation beams are then aimed at the breast tissue, and the heart is spared from damage that could pose problems years later.  She says while current radiation doses are lower and safer than in past years, it's better to protect the heart and err on the side of caution.