SAN ANTONIO (Ivanhoe Newswire/WTVM) -- Breathing deeply isn't just for yoga class. A specialized method of deep breathing is keeping some breast cancer patients from getting unintended doses of radiation to the heart.
Imagine if the side effects of radiation could be reduced, just by holding the breath.
Alonso N. Gutierrez, Ph.D., a radiation oncology physicist at UT Health Science Center, San Antonio says, "As you breathe, you have a natural separation between your heart and your left breast."
It's that separation that makes a big difference for patients with cancer in their left breast.
The technique is called deep inspiration breath hold. It uses surface imaging to ensure the breast, lungs, and heart are in the correct position when the radiation is delivered.
"The patient will have to hold their breath, take a deep breath, and by doing so, they fill their lung volume, and have a separation between the heart and the breast," explains Gutierrez.
Special goggles show the patient a window with a bar in it.
"As she breathes, her goal would be to get that bar inside of that window," says Gutierrez.
Colored images on the patient's chest help align the organs as cameras focus on any movement.
Gutierrez says, "In real time, they're able to track where the patient is."
If the patient should move out of the safety range, the radiation automatically cuts off. Patient Christine Castaneda says it's a bit challenging.
"It's just the staying still and not moving, that's what's hard about it," says Castaneda.
However, the health benefits are worth it.
Richard Crownover, M.D., Ph.D., a radiation oncologist at UT Health Science Center, San Antonio says, "It spares doses to the heart that can lead to measurable heart disease in the future."
"I got six weeks to go, so I think I can handle it," says Castaneda.
Compared to conventional radiation for left-side breast tumors, studies show the deep inspiration breath hold technique could reduce the average dose of radiation to the heart by 50 percent.