When you take a deep breath and hold it, your diaphragm (a large, dome-shaped muscle located at the base of the lungs) pulls your heart away from your chest. This is known as a deep inspiration breath hold (DIBH). This article describes how DIBH protects the heart during radiation therapy for breast cancer.
When you take a deep breath and hold it, your diaphragm (a large, dome-shaped muscle located at the base of the lungs) pulls your heart away from your chest. This is known as a deep inspiration breath hold (DIBH).
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If you are diagnosed with breast cancer, you and your doctor will develop a treatment plan. The type of treatment will depend on the size and location of the tumor in the breast, the results of lab tests done on the cancer cells, and the stage, or extent, of the disease.
One method of treating breast cancer is with radiation therapy, which uses high energy X-rays to kill cancer cells while minimizing damage to healthy cells. Radiation therapy is usually given after a lumpectomy (partial mastectomy) for one to six weeks to treat the remaining breast tissue.
Radiation is delivered to the affected breast and, in some cases, to the lymph nodes under the arm or above the collarbone. Most women who have a small, early-stage tumor are excellent candidates for this approach.
A potential problem with radiation therapy is that women who have cancer of the left breast may be at risk for heart disease from the radiation treatment. This is because the left breast is closer to the heart, which means it may be in the radiation field. (The lung may also be in the radiation field.)
If the heart receives radiation during breast cancer treatment, women may be at greater risk for coronary heart disease. This potential hazard may be further increased if a patient is also receiving chemotherapy at the same time, or if the woman is at higher risk for heart disease in the first place.
The overall likelihood of damage to the heart depends on several factors, including the radiation dose and how much of the heart is exposed to the radiation. This risk is present no matter the dose of radiation—even low doses.
One way to protect your heart while you are receiving radiation therapy is to hold your breath via DIBH. The radiation is then delivered to your breast while you are holding your breath deeply for 20 seconds. This will provide protection for your heart.
What this means in terms of radiation therapy for breast cancer is that you are moving your heart away from the “danger zone” of radiation. In fact, shifting the heart’s position in this fashion cuts the amount of radiation to the heart in half (compared to breathing normally).
There are commercial devices that can help you hold your breath during radiation treatment for breast cancer. These devices allow you to practice deep breathing before the radiation session, and will physically help you hold your breath.
You can also help prepare for DIBH during radiation treatment by practicing taking deep breaths and holding them at home, before your treatments. Studies have shown that practicing at home every day can help you improve your skills in DIBH.
If you want to learn more about DIBH, please ask your caregivers.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/07/2019.
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