Cape Breton Cancer Centre Uses New Technique to Treat Some Breast Cancer Patients

A new technique in the Cape Breton Cancer centre is helping some breast cancer patients with their treatments.

The Centre recently adopted the breath/hold technique. The technique requires the patient to take a deep breath and hold it to allow radiation beams to focus and hit their intended area. While the technique has been used elsewhere, the Centre is the first in Atlantic Canada to adopt the technique.

The purpose of the technique is to reduce radiation exposure to the heart and coronary vessels.

“By taking a deep breath, you increase the distance between the chest wall and the heart,” says Dr. Waseem Sharieff, Radiation Oncologist. “This reduces the heart’s exposure to radiation.”

Dr. Sharieff says the technique was developed over the past decade as physicians and researchers learned more about the impact of radiation on the heart and coronary vessels.

“Initially, there wasn’t a lot of awareness,” he says. “Then research began to show that for years after radiation treatment, some patients were at greater risk of heart attack or other long-term cardiac complications. By using breath/hold technique, the goal is to reduce the risk of complications of a heart attack or heart disease.”

The breath/hold technique is not used for all breast cancer patients. It’s only used on left-sided breast cancer patients and not all of them would need the technique.

Not only did Dr. Sharieff and the radiation team have an interest in the technique but they had the technology and they had patients who they thought would be good candidates for it.

To prepare, the team which also includes radiation therapists Jenna Gay and Nancy Sheaves and physicist Dr. Heping Xu, adapted the breath/hold technique protocol from Juravinski Cancer Centre in Hamilton, Ontario. They reviewed as a team and developed the capacity and expertise to implement the technique. They also ensured that they had the technology in place to do it. It took about a year for the team to get prepared to treat the first patient.

In late October 2015, the first patient was treated. Since then four patients have used the breath/hold technique during their radiation treatment.

“We will continue to monitor the patient’s heart health over the next four years,” says Dr. Sharieff.

The team will share their experience using the technique at a meeting of the Breast Radiation Oncology Group, which is comprised of practitioners from New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia.
“Radiation therapy technique is always changing,” says Dr. Sharieff. “We are always trying to be innovative and we are always looking to improve the quality and safety of treatments to further improve patient outcomes.”


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