State-of-the-Art Breast Cancer Treatment Safeguards the Heart


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State-of-the-Art Breast Cancer Treatment Safeguards the Heart

By Paul J. Watkins


Oncology is continually producing advances in treatment techniques and technologies. These advances not only result in better patient outcomes but also result in less discomfort, fewer side effects, increased safety, and less interruption of the patient’s life.


One such advancement in breast cancer treatment is deep inspiration breath hold (DIBH) radiation therapy. 


“We’re one of the only centers in the region performing this innovative type of radiation therapy,” says Timothy D. Wagner, MD, MBA, a board-certified radiation oncologist at Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center. “It’s for patients with left-sided breast cancer, though patients with right-sided breast cancer may also benefit from the therapy. It spares the heart from receiving radiation so patients have a reduced risk of getting heart disease later in life. This therapy also minimizes harm to other internal organs, such as the lungs and liver, as well as the soft tissues surrounding the breast.”


Due to the close proximity of the left breast to the heart, radiation oncologists have been challenged to deliver radiation to breast tumors while avoiding irradiation of the heart as well. DIBH radiation therapy makes this goal much easier to achieve.’


The diaphragm is a large, dome-shaped muscle below the lungs. When a person inhales deeply and holds that breath, the diaphragm moves the heart away from the chest wall. When a patient holds her breath during DIBH radiation therapy, this increased distance cuts the radiation dose to the heart by fifty percent in comparison to normal breathing. Even low doses of radiation can adversely affect the heart, so minimizing the dose is always advisable.


“During DIBH radiation therapy, a lighting system in the treatment room uses different colors to give feedback to the patient regarding how she’s holding her breath,” Dr. Wagner explains. “This feedback tells the patient if she’s maximizing the distance between the breast and the heart. When that distance is maximized, the radiation can be administered with the highest degree of safety and accuracy.”


Prior to treatment, the patient practices holding her breath for the necessary amount of time – twenty seconds – and becomes familiar with the color-coded lights.


During treatment, the patient draws in a deep breath and holds it. The DIBH radiation therapy technology focuses the radiation on the targeted tumor in the breast and delivers the dosage. The patient then exhales.


DIBH radiation therapy delivers the same radiation dose as traditional radiation therapy and requires just a few additional minutes of treatment time. The outcomes are equal to traditional radiation therapy outcomes for breast cancer.


“Mays Cancer Center has been offering DIBH radiation therapy for eight years,” concludes Dr. Wagner. “We encourage patients with left-sided breast cancer to consider this highly effective radiation therapy method for treating their cancer while also safeguarding their heart.”


Please call (210) 450-1000 to make an appointment at Mays Cancer Center. Learn more about deep inspiration breath hold radiation therapy at


Dr. Timothy D. Wagner Headshot




Timothy D. Wagner, MD, MBA. Board-certified radiation oncologist at Mays Cancer Center


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