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() Hold your breath to protect your heart

Radiotherapy uses beams of radiation to damage cancer cells, and is highly effective against breast cancer — but it can raise the risk of heart attack.

The heart lies just behind the left breast and, when directed at a breast tumour, radiotherapy can also damage the heart, over time causing inflammation that may block blood supply and lead to heart disease or heart attack.

A technique called deep inspiration breath hold can protect patients from this side-effect.

Patients simply take a deep breath and hold it for around 20 seconds just before each radiotherapy dose. As the lungs expand, they push the heart back and down out of danger.

A study of 50 patients, published in the journal Practical Radiation Oncology in 2014, found it reduced the radiation dose to the heart by 75 per cent compared with those who breathed normally. It can also help in lung cancer or cancer of the lymphatic system.

A similar approach is also being introduced for tumours in the liver and pancreas, although here patients hold a deep exhaled breath before each radiotherapy dose to ‘immobilise’ the organ.

With the right guidance this technique can be used without needing expensive machines.

Dr Andy Gaya, a consultant oncologist based in London, says: ‘Deep inhalation is used now to protect the heart in breast cancer and lymphoma radiotherapy, and expiration breath hold is increasingly used for liver and pancreas radiotherapy.’

Availability: At some NHS units and privately

Milk supplement can save taste 

A metallic taste and altered sense of smell are common during chemotherapy.

Exactly why is not well understood, but these taste and smell abnormalities can last for weeks and lead to loss of appetite, weight loss, depression and poor nutrition, which can slow recovery.

But U.S. research, published in the journal Food & Function last year, suggests a protein found in milk, saliva and tears called lactoferrin — already available as a nutritional supplement on the High Street — could help.

Researchers from Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in the U.S. asked 19 patients with taste and smell disturbances to take 250mg of lactoferrin three times a day for 30 days.

They found cancer patients’ saliva contained significantly reduced levels of some proteins known to play a role in immunity and taste. However, lactoferrin boosted these levels and, at the same time, reduced the iron content of saliva.

Professor Susan Duncan, who carried out the study, said: ‘By suggesting lactoferrin as a dietary supplement, cancer patients and their family and friends may again find comfort in enjoying a meal together.’

Dr Gaya says: ‘Metallic taste is a huge problem, leading to reduced appetite and weight loss. If proven, this is a welcome, easy and cheap way to overcome a debilitating issue.’

Availability: On the High Street, but seek medical advice first

Icy socks stop nerve damage 

Peripheral neuropathy or nerve damage causes pain and numbness in hands and feet, affecting three-quarters of patients given paclitaxel, used for ovarian, breast and lung cancers.

It occurs because this chemotherapy drug can destroy nerves as well as cancer cells.

But wearing gloves and socks stored at minus 30c can help, according to researchers from Kyoto University in Japan.

Reducing the temperature in hands and feet lowers blood flow to these areas and as a result the amount of chemotherapy reaching them.

Patients wear the gloves and socks 15 minutes before, throughout treatment and for 15 minutes afterwards (90 minutes in total).

A small study of 36 breast cancer patients undergoing 12 weekly cycles of chemotherapy, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2017, found just 28 per cent of hands wearing the gloves lost sensitivity to touch (81 per cent without); and 25 per cent of feet lost some sensitivity when wearing the socks (64 per cent

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