hold your breath to limit side effects

hold your breath to limit side effects
hold your breath to limit side effects

Since February, the National Radiotherapy Center has implemented a new technique for women with breast cancer.

During radiotherapy to treat cancer, certain adverse effects may occur after the sessions. It is to limit these consequences on health that the François-Baclesse National Radiotherapy Center installed, last year, a brand new device for women suffering from breast cancer.

This method is short apnea radiotherapy. So how does it work ? During the session, the patient must, for twenty to twenty-five seconds, inhale deeply then block her breathing. This is when the treatment (rays) is given. The gesture is repeated several times for a few minutes.

The aim is to protect the heart as much as possible from the radiation which is used to destroy cancer cells. “Inhaling deeply helps move the heart away from the breast wall by inflating the rib cage. This limits the heart damage that can occur in this type of cancer. We only do this on the left breast, because it is closest to the heart,” explains Anne Eschenbrenner, radiophysicist.

In a press release, Dr Bérangère Frédérick, radiotherapist and oncologist at the François-Baclesse center, specifies that this method makes it possible “to reduce on average by 7.5% per gray (the unit of measurement of the dose absorbed during irradiation by ionizing radiation) long-term cardiac side effects.”

A very supervised technique

But before being practiced, this method requires prior support with the patient. First of all, it is the doctor who will talk to him about this device during the first consultation. “He can even give him little exercises to do at home to learn how to last twenty seconds. Then, the patient returns for the simulation and there is another interview (…). This will be explained again during the scan before the treatment and when it is delivered,” explains Mélanie Habay, radiotherapy medical technical assistant.

To be able to develop this new specific radiotherapy, the nursing staff were also trained. “There are a total of four doctors, four physicists and seven technicians within the reference team. In addition to basic training, we have refresher training every year,” says the radiophysicist.

Contrary to what one might think, this method can be practiced at any age. “The only criterion is to be able to maintain an apnea. This is why we try to de-stress patients because they are sometimes afraid of not being able to do it, whereas it can be very simple when you are really relaxed (…). We have old people who do very well and young people who fail,” explains Anne Eschenbrenner.

The radiophysicist wishes to emphasize that if apnea is not correctly performed during the session, this has no impact on the success of the treatment. “We also have very good results in free breathing, so there is no need to worry.”

Since the launch of this blocked inspiration radiotherapy last February, thirty out of forty patients have benefited from it. “If there are sometimes certain apprehensions, they accept easily, because they are happy to be involved in their treatment,” explains Mélanie Habay. In the future, the National Radiotherapy Center in Luxembourg would like to develop this technique for other types of cancer. “We would already like to be able to do it for the right breast as well. Here, we would protect the lungs. Then, why not for lung and liver cancers. This is something whose effectiveness has been proven by numerous scientific journals,” says Anne Eschenbrenner.

Present for several years in many European countries, such as in France, this short apnea radiotherapy is being implemented for the first time in Luxembourg.

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