Many women fear that they will one day hear the words, “You have breast cancer.”
Except for skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer that women may face, according to the American Cancer Society. About one in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetime.
For those diagnosed, a new tool by Elekta called Active Breathing Coordinator is being used to reduce radiation exposure to the heart and lung, thus reducing the risk for long-term side effects.
A majority of women with breast cancer are treated with a combination of therapies including radiation, surgery, chemotherapy and hormonal therapy. While these treatments are used to fight cancer, they also may come with unwanted side effects. Side effects are grouped into short-term and long-term categories. Short-term side effects usually resolve fairly quickly, while long-term side effects may be persistent. The medical team makes every effort to keep risk of all side effects to a minimum.
Active Breathing Coordinator helps to lower or even eliminate radiation exposure to the heart in women who require radiation treatment to the left breast. ABC is a non-invasive device that is placed in a patient’s mouth during radiation to control their breathing.
With the device, patients simply take a deep breath and hold it. When inhaling a deep breath, the chest expands, moving the breast area further away from the heart. With the ABC system, the exact volume of air which is inhaled with each deep breath is strictly controlled. While using this controlled breath hold, the expansion of the chest is measured, and the breast target area is identified for radiation doses.
The radiation oncology team members then use the collected information to develop an individual treatment plan for each patient. Since the location of the target area remains the same with each breath held, the radiation doses are delivered precisely when the breast is furthest away from the heart, helping eliminate side effects to that area.
In order to implement this process, the radiation therapist and the patient coordinate together. First, a practice session allows the patient to become familiar with the ABC device, and allows the therapist to determine an appropriate volume to set for the daily breath hold. The volume of air which can be comfortably held is recorded in the patient’s chart, and used for each daily treatment. When it is time for the actual treatment delivery, the radiation beam is turned on only when the patient is holding her breath.
Patients with breast cancer may require three to six weeks of radiation therapy. While every patient may not require the ABC system during treatment, the tool is now available for those who will potentially benefit from its use. If you are undergoing treatments for breast cancer, inquire with your physician about whether ABC is right for you.
Dr. Jacqueline Matar is a radiation oncologist with KentuckyOne Health Cancer Care.