Hold Your Breath During Radiation to Reduce Heart Disease

For people who have breast cancer in their left breast, shielding the heart from radiation treatments can be difficult. A new study at Thomas Jefferson University found that women who hold their breath during radiation pulses may be able to reduce the hearts exposure, lessening their risk of developing heart disease.

There are techniques in place that limit the amount of radiation to the heart, such as having the patient lay belly down on a bed that only exposes the left breast, intensity-modulated radiation therapy (which delivers more precise doses to smaller areas) and accelerated partial-breast irradiation (which focuses the radiation only on the area of the breast where a tumor has been removed).

According to Science Daily, researchers at the Department of Radiation Oncology at Thomas Jefferson University conducted the largest experiment so far on the subject of using breath control to lessen the heart's exposure to radiation. The study followed 81 women for eight years after their treatment. During the course of radiation therapy, the women were asked to hold their breaths for each pulse of radiation. The treatment, and breath holding, was repeated until they reached the proper dose of radiation.

The women who were able to hold their breath had a 90 percent disease-free survival and 96 percent overall survival rate. According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease causes one in four deaths of women in the U.S. Lessening one's preventable risks, like getting better targeted radiation treatment, is just one step at reducing your likelihood of developing heart disease.

Women who smoke, have diabetes or metabolic syndromes like high blood pressure, don't exercise or are depressed are at a higher risk for heart disease. Those who undergo radiation therapy for breast cancer treatment and fall into one of the above categories are at a much higher risk of developing heart disease than women who have not undergone radiation therapy.

The researchers encouraged their patients to hold their breaths during radiation treatment. It may be the next step in preventing health concerns caused by radiation.

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