Holding Breath Saves Lives

holding breath saves lives

A machine used for radiotherapy, where holding breath saves lives


A new study finds that holding breath saves lives !? This of course doesn’t apply to everyone just women with breast cancer undergoing radiation therapy.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women. Earlier news items have taken a look at the many treatments that exist today and is currently in development. Treatments used today against breast cancer have some major drawbacks when it comes to side effects. One such treatment, radiation therapy, are problematic when the cancer is on the left side, very close to the heart. This issue is the topic of new research from Thomas Jefferson University

Holding Breath Saves Lives

The findings of this new study was presented at the 2014 American Society for Radiation Oncology in San Francisco.

[pullquote]”Radiation therapy is commonly prescribed to patients with breast cancer following surgery as a component of first-line therapy,” said first author Harriet Eldredge-Hindy, M.D[/pullquote]

Breast cancer is a serious disease to be affected by no matter where it first appear. But recent studies have shown that depending on which side it’s located you might have different problems with treatment. This problem has nothing to do with classification of the cancer itself or how far its spread, its related to the heart. Getting left-sided breast cancer makes it harder to treat with radiation therapy since it’s so close to the heart and women with left-sided breast cancer are at higher risk of heart disease because of damage caused by the radiation.

To protect the heart a number of techniques have been developed to ensure that the cancerous tissue gets the radiation needed while the heart stays safe. These include prone positioning, intensity modulated radiation therapy and accelerated partial breast irradiation. The “hold your breath” technique enables a doctor to find a position that gets the heart of the way of the dangerous radiation.

This study, the largest conducted to date followed women undergoing radiation treatment for 8 years. 81 women were asked to hold their breath during the treatments for breast cancer, not for several minutes but for alternating sessions until reaching the radiation dose required.

Researchers found that using the “hold your breath” technique had a 90% disease-free survival. The median radiation dose reduction was 62% which of course was the factor limiting development of heart disease in people receiving the treatment.

Such a simple concept as holding your breath during treatment can actually help prevent serious heart problems later in life a promising development in continuing to refine treatments against breast cancer. Holding breath saves lives!

Image credit: IndyDina with Mr. Wonderful via flickr.com, CC BY-2.0