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Breathing Device May Help Spare Tissue from Radiation Side Effects

A special breathing technology may help spare healthy lung, heart and liver tissue from the effects of radiation during treatment for early stage breast cancer. Kolby Sidhu, M.D., an instructor in radiation oncology at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, leads a clinical trial examining the effectiveness of the Active Breathing Coordinator (ABC), a device that is aimed at helping patients to hold their breath in a consistent manner while receiving radiation. This inhalation in turn increases the separation between the breast tissue and the heart, reducing the heart’s exposure to radiation during treatment. From Thomas Jefferson University :Breathing Device May Help Spare Normal Tissue from Radiation Therapy Side Effects

A special breathing technology may help spare healthy lung, heart and liver tissue from the effects of radiation during treatment for early stage breast cancer.

Kolby Sidhu, M.D., an instructor in radiation oncology at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, leads a clinical trial examining the effectiveness of the Active Breathing Coordinator (ABC), a device that is aimed at helping patients to hold their breath in a consistent manner while receiving radiation. This inhalation in turn increases the separation between the breast tissue and the heart, reducing the heart’s exposure to radiation during treatment.

A major limitation of using radiation to treat cancer is the damage it can inflict on normal tissue. According to Dr. Sidhu, when oncologists treat patients for breast cancer, they typically have to give radiation to areas that include the heart and liver. If a person takes a deep breath, the chest expands and the heart separates from the chest, giving some space to treat the breast while missing the heart and liver. But timing the dose of radiation with deep breaths is frequently difficult and doctors and patients would like to have a way to lessen the heart’s exposure.

Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Jefferson’s Kimmel Cancer Center is one of only two hospitals in the country testing the effectiveness of the ABC on breast cancer patients. The device has been used with lung cancer patients, who often are extremely ill. They may have trouble breathing and have difficulty with the device. Using it for breast cancer is fairly new, she says.

“Modern chemotherapy is increasingly toxic to the heart,” says Dr. Sidhu. “We’re trying to avoid the heart as much as possible. The less normal tissue you irradiate, the better.”

In the study, which requires some training for the patient to get comfortable with the equipment, ABC helps the individual hold a deep breath and maintain the extra space between heart and breast a little longer than usual. The researchers measure the amount of normal tissue in lung, heart and liver spared from radiation. They then will follow patients after treatment to see whether or not there are long-term effects from radiation. The first phase of the study examines 20 patients.

According to Walter J. Curran, M.D., professor and chair of radiation oncology and clinical director of Jefferson’s Kimmel Cancer Center, therapies for women with early stage breast cancer are improving. “You really have to consider the long-term effects of treatment,” Dr. Sidhu says. “Most breast cancer patients will live a long time.”



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