Longer breath-holds improve breast radiotherapy

Prolonged breath-holds of more than five minutes could make the administration of targeted radiotherapy for breast cancer more efficient, according to a study published on 11 May in the British Journal of Radiology.

Researchers at the University of Birmingham found when breast cancer patients are trained to hold their breath for more than five minutes during targeted radiotherapy, the treatment can be delivered in a daily session of one dose.

A typical radiotherapy beam takes two minutes to deliver, with beams directed from several angles to intersect at the tumor, lead author Mike Parkes, PhD, and colleagues wrote. But because patients are not able to hold their breath for this long, most radiotherapy treatment is delivered while the patient is breathing, which increases the risk of damage to nearby healthy tissue.

Parkes' team included 15 patients undergoing radiotherapy and trained them safely to hold their breath for at least five minutes. The average breath-hold of the patients after training was 5.3 minutes, more than the required target of two minutes, the group wrote.

"Although five minute breath-holds may seem astonishing to people, it is perfectly natural and safe for patients," Parkes said in a statement released by the University of Birmingham. "Being able to hit the cancerous tumor accurately is essential to avoid damage to other areas, including the heart muscle. Having a stable chest that we can target in one dose could be invaluable in protecting the surrounding tissue."

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