Special Report: Device limits radiation exposure to heart during breast cancer treatment


(CBS/WKRG) — Joyce McCain’s breast cancer was picked up in a routine mammogram earlier this year.  The 65-year-old considered her active lifestyle and decided a lumpectomy with radiation was the right treatment for her. Then doctors explained there could be side effects for the heart. .  

Joyce’s cancer was in her left breast, so radiation to treat cancer could also expose the heart to incidental radiation, and that can lead to heart disease. 

“More commonly we worry about long-term side effects of the heart and that can include, for example, increased risk of coronary heart disease and subsequent heart attacks,” said Dr. Chirag Shah.

Dr. Chirag Shah at the Cleveland Clinic told Joyce about a technique they’re using that protects the heart from radiation while still delivering treatment effectively. 

Patients wear a snorkel-like device during radiation. They take a deep breath and hold it, increasing the distance between the heart and the area getting the radiation.  

“As the breast and the chest lift up during the inspiration, the heart stays where it is. So we’re able to treat the breast and chest while limiting the dose to the heart,” said Shah.

The Cleveland Clinic says using this active breathing technique is cutting radiation doses to the heart by 50% or more for patients in most cases. 

“I feel good. I really do,” said McCain, who is now four months cancer free. “I keep trying to do my exercises. I’m trying to eat the way they want me to eat, and I try not to dwell on it.”

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